In France, a Trinity political science major reflects on immigration, nationalism, and campus life.
For Yasmin Sinclair, this is the perfect time to be studying abroad in Paris. The self-described “museum buff” from Brooklyn has fallen in love with the City of Light for all of the usual reasons—the iconic architecture, the world-class art, the food!—but she has also been drawn into the fiery political debate over French identity in the global age.
“I was familiar with the French nationalism controversy prior to coming here,” says Sinclair, a junior political science major who first studied the legacy of French colonialism in a Trinity seminar titled “Black Paris.” “[France] tried to internalize the African colonies,” explains Sinclair. “Not only strip them of their culture, but impose a French culture while still keeping them separate from France.”
Today there are over 200 million French speakers in the world, but only 60 million live in France. As more and more “French” immigrants arrive on the continent from Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, the harder it is for French traditionalists to retain their proud culture.
Although born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Sinclair could be characterized as a “global citizen” herself. Her mother is from Aruba, her father is from Jamaica, and Sinclair holds dual citizenship from the U.S. and the Netherlands. At Trinity, Sinclair has deepened her global perspective through courses like “International Human Rights Law,” which gave her critical insight into the European attitude toward human rights and immigration even before she stepped foot on the Continent.
Sinclair, who has studied French since junior-high school took two high-level French courses at Trinity and saw the Trinity-in-Paris program as the ideal way to examine first-hand a culture in flux. She hasn’t been disappointed.
“I’m completely immersed in an urban environment,” she says. “I’m learning through living here. We talk about the nationalism controversy frequently in our classes,” including in one of her favorite seminars on the history and future of the EU, “but I also talk about it in the cafés with typical French citizens.”
Back in Hartford, Sinclair says that Trinity College is experiencing its own cultural transition. Sinclair came to Trinity as a Posse scholar, part of a program that identifies promising students from inner-city public schools and sends them to top colleges in supportive groups of 10. Trinity is one of 37 colleges and universities that partner with The Posse Foundation to offer full scholarships to participating students.
“Posse is really built on diversity and diversifying college campuses,” says Sinclair, who was a member of the fifth Posse to attend Trinity. “Schools like Trinity continue to work with Posse because of the caliber of students as well as the variety of their backgrounds.”
The result of Posse and other initiatives supported by Trinity’s Office of Multicultural Affairs is a richer Trinity experience informed by fresh cultural perspectives. Sinclair points to the rapid expansion of cultural and theme houses on campus — Umoja House, La Eracra, Bayt al Salaam, Zachs Hillel House — as well as activities sponsored by groups like the Asian-American Students Association, the Muslim Students Association, and the Caribbean Students Association, of which Sinclair is a member.
“When all the multicultural student groups get together for the Thanksgiving Feast or the annual Block Party, it’s amazing,” says Sinclair. “It’s what makes Trinity such a remarkable place.”