July 1, 2020

Dear Members of the Trinity College Community,

I have been deeply affected by the events of the last several weeks. It’s difficult to describe the range of emotions that I have felt in seeing anti-racism protests here and around the world, in reading descriptions of racist incidents that have happened on this campus, and in seeing reactions to those cries of pain. Personally, and in self-reflection, I have felt anger, disappointment, pain, a sense of responsibility, and, ultimately, hope. Here, let me share some of the principles that many of us hold dear, validate the expressions of pain that I’ve heard, show that we have listened deeply to our community (and will continue to do so), and evince what actions we are taking to come together as a community.

Today, with the rapid change occurring across America, we seem to be realizing what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as a “fierce urgency of now.” Our collective hope should be that this period in our history signals real and lasting change. We are passionately challenging systems of oppression that have allowed systemic racism to endure despite the bold promises on which this country was founded. These same systems have endured at institutions across the country and here at Trinity. So how will we take action? We are being handed an opportunity to create the community we wish to be.

Here are some of the principles that guide the direction and manner in which I will continue to lead this institution.

Seven principles that will guide my leadership:

  1. Higher education has the power to transform individuals and to transform society.
  2. A humanistic, liberal arts education demands of us a sense of humanity. True understanding and compassion come from listening to one another with an open heart, empathetically imagining what it is like to experience the world from someone else’s perspective, and acting decisively based on this empathy. We must demand this of ourselves as members of this community.
  3. Institutions of higher education, such as Trinity, play a vital role in bringing together very different people and helping them bridge divides in backgrounds, beliefs, and aspirations. Indeed, we’re an intense microcosm of our greater society. If we cannot bridge divides at Trinity, where can we make it happen?
  4. Individuals within an institution need to act swiftly and boldly about some things; other changes take time to enact, especially if we want those changes to be sustained for the long term.
  5. Systemic change requires continual, prolonged, and steady progress. Systemic change demands a willingness to dismiss with a “business as usual” mentality. Systemic change requires changing hearts and minds and a strong infrastructure to succeed.
  6. The most valuable resource at Trinity is its people. The Trinity community must come together to enact the change in and around the community that we want to see.
  7. Being intentionally anti-racist must be embedded in everything that we do; it is our collective responsibility.

So where does this lead me, and where does this lead us as a community? We have heard your voices; we acknowledge that pain. Individuals across our community have shared their stories. It is clear that we have not yet made sufficient visible changes to support you, our students, faculty, and staff of color. This dialogue is continuing. We have not yet built the infrastructure for sustainable efforts and accountability in our diversity and inclusion efforts. It also is clear that there are segments of our community where hearts and minds have not yet been changed. Yet, we must persist.

We have received demands from the Umoja Coalition, as well as other groups of alumni and friends of the college, that we need to be the agents of a cultural change at Trinity. The responses below are not intended to answer all of those demands; it is not a comprehensive list of what we will change. Rather, this is a list of initial commitments of actions that we can take as soon as practicable, as we begin the transformation of our institution toward inclusion and equity.

Today, we, the senior administration of the college, commit to the following action steps. The Board of Trustees has unanimously endorsed these steps. We will:

  1. Require all campus members, all trustees, and all key volunteers to complete anti-racist, unconscious bias, equity education in the fall.
  2. Support the faculty Education Policy Committee (EPC) in creating six Special Opportunity Hires (preferably at the senior/tenured level) each year for the next three years to increase faculty diversity.
  3. Change the names of Seabury and Wheaton Halls. [UPDATED July 7: While we were asked about those buildings specifically, rather than address just two names, I’ll be asking members of the Trinity community this fall to consider naming issues more broadly—to look at not only who’s honored and whether that’s appropriate, but also who isn’t honored and how we might address it. These community members will help us figure out whose names and stories could or should be celebrated and what names should adorn our campus buildings and spaces.]
  4. Fund the International Hip Hop Festival and Samba Fest ($50,000 each per year for the next three years, while we seek permanent endowments).
  5. Make plans to renovate the Umoja House, the Asian-American Student Association (AASA) House, and La Eracra-La Voz Latina House.
  6. Increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the Board of Trustees, with each new incoming class, to better reflect the current student body. We make the same commitment about the Board of Fellows, and ask the Trinity College Alumni Association to do the same.
  7. Institute in fall 2020 a committee of the Board of Trustees, focused on addressing anti-racism at Trinity and promoting diversity and inclusion, that will create specific goals and outcomes; we will share progress toward these goals regularly.
  8. Honor the contributions of people of color in the celebration of the college’s bicentennial in 2023, and develop a comprehensive history that includes an honest telling of any institutional ties to slavery.
  9. Develop an anti-racist summit and support other anti-racist programming to improve the campus climate beginning in the fall.
  10. Convene multiple meetings with senior administrators and trustees and Black students and alumni to hear more from them and to invite their continued partnership in this work. These meetings will occur between now and the October meeting of the Board of Trustees.

We also will create a Task Force on Campus Climate, which will provide an ongoing infrastructure and key metrics to monitor our community’s progress toward our goals. You are invited to a webinar to review the results of the Campus Climate Survey, with a focus on racial climate, on August 17, 2020, at noon.

We must hold ourselves accountable for achieving these goals.

Why I am hopeful

I am hopeful because I believe fervently that higher education can be in the forefront of studying and addressing systemic racism in the United States.

I often think of the progress that we have made together, since my arrival in 2014. To name a few positive steps: We have increased the diversity of the student body, senior administration, and trustees; we must now move from representation to inclusion. Many of us have participated in successful programming as part of the Campaign for Community, the Bridging Divides series, and the campus-wide dialogues stimulated by Anthony Jack’s book The Privileged Poor. In spring 2019, students formed an Athletes of Color Coalition, which has been working with Athletics Department staff on programming, initiatives, and hiring in athletics. Last year, Trinity hosted the first NESCAC-wide summit for coaches of color. These small steps are helping us make systemic changes at Trinity. I can see the progress that we have made, while recognizing that we can and will do more. We must persist.

Trustees are our eager partners in these efforts. In addition to committing to the shared work to address systemic racism, they have pledged financial support to achieve these goals; in a message to you soon, they will call the Trinity community to join them. I am most hopeful because I believe that I am part of a community that listens, is willing to grapple with wicked problems, perseveres, and acts boldly and swiftly.

The Trinity community has my personal commitment that I will not let go of these challenges until we have changed for the better the experiences of people of color on our campus and improved racial justice and equity at this college. You can and should be part of the solution. I ask you to fight with me with Bantam spirit and pride for what our institution can and must be.


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience