April 21, 2015

Dear Members of the Trinity Community:

People often ask me what kind of community I’d like to see at Trinity College.  I tell them that I’ve seen many glimpses of it!  You showed this to me at my Inauguration in October, when the combined choir of more than 80 students joined in harmony singing a new rendition of “America the Beautiful.”  Seemingly disparate members of our community – some voices classically trained, others informally trained; students of different genders and sexual orientations; students involved in athletics, Greek life, and every type of student organization; students from different races and ethnicities – all with voices raised in song.  It was there among students who joined together in the Design Team Challenge to create the Bantam Network for future students.  It was there when Hallden Hall was jam-packed with students supporting survivors of sexual assault.  We all saw it when our scholar-athletes worked together as powerful teams to obtain the highest levels of success.  These are glimpses of the community I would like to see at Trinity.

Members of our community represent different backgrounds and bring various achievements, interests, and dreams to the Trinity experience.  Members of our community have overcome challenges to be here – in ways that we can see and in ways that we cannot see.  But we all share a commitment to this unique and accomplished academic community.  In a learning environment that promotes growth and a global environment that changes rapidly, fundamental values still undergird our life together: intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, civic engagement, diversity, and pluralism.

This first year on campus, I have seen the Trinity community at its best, and I also have heard stories of intolerance and excessive behaviors that transgress our shared values. These stories, along with disturbing national trends and the responses to several recent surveys, signal the urgent need for Trinity to continue its focus on becoming the community we wish to be.  Drawn from recent surveys, my chief concerns include:

  • Both white and nonwhite students report low rates of satisfaction with the climate for racial/ethnic diversity and report among the highest rates of white students witnessing and nonwhite students experiencing insensitivity, harassment, or discrimination.
  • Both straight and LGBT students report low satisfaction with the climate for LGBT students, and both male and female students agree about the problematic climate for female students.
  • Many Trinity students report unwanted sexual contact during their time on campus. Only half of the incidents are disclosed to anyone.
  • Nationwide, more than half of self-identified Jewish students on 38 college campuses (including Trinity) report that they have witnessed or been the target of anti-Semitism within the last six months.

Significantly, these studies point to a strong desire among students for a safer, more tolerant, and inclusive campus.

Developing a vision of community for a complex academic organization is not an endpoint but rather an evolution and an ongoing process.  Realizing a vision of community requires us to be reflective about ourselves, to acknowledge our shortcomings, to take risks, to innovate, and to venture with courage beyond our usual comfort zones.

At this time, I am preparing an initiative to engage students, as well as faculty and staff, in claiming the community we wish to be.  I am asking for your help in creating a Campaign for Community at Trinity in fall 2015.  We will assemble teams of students, supported by faculty and staff, to identify specific means of improving campus climate around gender and all forms of diversity.  Education, training, and several weeks of intensive consideration will take place for participants in the Campaign for Community to pinpoint strategies and propose programs to shift campus culture.  You will be hearing more about this Campaign in the weeks ahead.

At Trinity College, we strive to be a community that is intellectually curious, discourages complacency, and expands the boundaries of knowledge. Trinity’s mission statement affirms that our purpose is “to free the mind of parochialism and prejudice.”  A vital liberal arts community includes the diversity of thought and opinion that generates creativity.  And for Trinity to thrive, the co-curricular environment in which we live, learn, and grow socially needs to be as strong as the academic experience.  We should be a community that supports hard work alongside play, that promotes equity for persons of all gender identities and expressions, and that engages our local and global communities.  Our members should readily engage across the aisle, and certainly everyone should feel safe from sexual misconduct.

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 at Trinity places these efforts at the forefront of our life together.

Please join me to Go Boldly and Be Engaged in shaping the community we wish to be.


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor
of Neuroscience