November 13, 2015

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Since I came to Trinity as president 17 months ago, it has been my priority to listen thoughtfully to as many students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents as I can.  The views of our campus community were, and are, a critical source of information as I take the lead in moving Trinity forward.  As a neuroscientist who instinctively sees the connections between cells and other living matter, I see our community through the connections we have to each other – connections that are in fact the very fabric of Trinity College.

In the recent changes we have made to life outside the classroom, my philosophy has been this: Listen, and in particular, listen to how the students feel.  Two of our most visible initiatives this fall – creation of the Bantam Network and the Campaign for Community – grew out of conversations I had with students and others across campus, and out of Trinity research I read detailing student experiences and attitudes.  I learned that students believed that entering first-year students would benefit from a network of mentors who would connect them more quickly to Trinity people and resources.  This formed the kernel of the idea that, with major student participation, became the Bantam Network.  I also learned that many students were dissatisfied about the lack of inclusiveness, homophobia, and violence against women on our campus.  In an April letter to the campus, I called our entire community to action:

“Through our collective voice, we affirm our shared values.  Through deliberate and intentional consideration of who we are and wish to be, we forge the true character of our community.  Through student organizing, faculty engagement, staff support, and administrative leadership, we can further enhance diversity, cultivate tolerance, and realize the full inclusion of all members of the Trinity community.  Our Campaign for Community in the fall at Trinity will place these efforts at the forefront of our life together.”

During the last week, we have seen students at colleges and universities in many parts of the country join in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri seeking a stronger administrative response to incidents of intolerance based on race or ethnicity.  And other students have raised their own concerns about activities on their campuses, including students at Yale, Ithaca, and the University of Kansas.  As president of Trinity College, I am committed to confronting racial intolerance and to promoting a fully inclusive, supportive college community where all students feel they can grow and flourish.  I believe we have taken important steps in this direction.

We have just completed Phase I of our Campaign for Community, and last Saturday a crowd of more than 200 of us listened to students identifying some of the key challenges on campus and proposing solutions to resolve them.  We witnessed the very positive results of students who put their hearts and their brains into this work.  I listened and agreed to support Phase II as we begin to resolve some of these challenges on our campus.

Efforts such as these are an important step, but there must be more to come.  I cite last Saturday’s Campaign event to underscore the importance of community dialogue, of bringing problems out into the open in a constructive way, and of joining together to address them, with students taking their place at the forefront in identifying and analyzing challenges and then pointing us in the direction of positive change.  I am committed to continuing an open dialogue about the concerns our students may have.  My door is open.  I ask every member of our community – students, faculty, and administrative staff – to help every person feel welcomed and supported and to commit ourselves to working to eliminate intolerance and injustice on our campus and wherever it may occur.

If you are a student who was unable to participate in the student working groups of the Campaign for Community, or were unable to attend Saturday’s forum, I invite you to step forward – to add to the list of solutions that have already been recommended to make our campus the kind of place we all wish it to be.  The Campaign has just begun, and I invite your participation and continued dialogue.


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor
of Neuroscience