July 31, 2017

To the Members of the Trinity Community,

I write with an update on the Campus Reform incident in June concerning Professor Johnny Williams and to invite you to join me in moving forward and recommitting to the work of nurturing a community of learning that values differences and promotes understanding.

First, an update. The controversy that thrust Trinity into the national spotlight disrupted our campus and our work for a short time, to be sure. That is regrettable, and, unfortunately, increasingly common, as these attacks against free speech have become all too frequent. As you know, we were forced to close our campus for a day in late June, and our social media networks, phone lines, and e-mail inboxes were temporarily overwhelmed with reaction to the reports by Campus Reform and other outlets. Most of that response came from outside the Trinity community and has since moved on, and we quickly resumed our normal operations.

But certainly, the events have had an effect. In the short term, we know that 16 students in the incoming Class of 2021 have withdrawn and cited this incident as the reason, and our admissions team has engaged in conversations with many others who had concerns. This is, however, well within our usual summer “melt,” as we call it, as some students make different decisions about where and when they might matriculate. We remain on track to meet our enrollment and revenue targets and are ahead of where we were at this time last year.

A number of past contributors also chose not to donate to the College this year in response to the controversy. I certainly am disappointed by those decisions, but I respect them and hope that those individuals ultimately will see that there continue to be many good reasons to invest in Trinity. At this point, we estimate that impact to be roughly $200,000, while overall giving exceeded $28.6 million, which was a 28 percent increase over the previous year. Finally, we incurred some cost to manage the crisis, including for additional security on campus for a few weeks.

We can and will recover from the financial cost of this incident; the work before us now is to heal as a community. This incident will not divide us. These events have laid bare just how critical our work as a college is, and all of us in higher education must seize the opportunity and take on the responsibility for fostering learning and educating informed, engaged citizens. We continue to provide space for civilized discourse about issues that divide us.

This work has been ongoing at Trinity for years, and it has been a special focus of mine since arriving in 2014 — at the heart of the creation of the Campaign for Community and the piloting last spring of the workshop series “Meaningful Discourse Across Difficult Boundaries.” We will build upon this strong foundation with conversations and programming throughout the upcoming year. We will begin when first-years arrive at the end of August, and it is my hope that we will engage the entire Trinity community, both on campus and off, in discussions of race and racism, academic freedom and freedom of speech, and the challenges of holding productive, respectful dialogue across deep differences.

We need your help. We welcome your ideas for taking on these important topics, as well as any expertise or assistance you might lend to such efforts. Please share your thoughts with us here​; we’ve begun planning and will incorporate into it the feedback we receive from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents. We look forward to sharing with you soon more details of what’s ahead.

In the meantime, I want to thank the members of our community who were on the front lines of managing the events of the Campus Reform incident, especially many staff members whose work and dedication during this very challenging situation have been truly exceptional. And now, as we look forward to welcoming the wonderful Class of 2021 in a few weeks and to completing our Bicentennial Strategic Plan this fall, I hope the remainder of summer is peaceful and restorative for all.


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience