December 2, 2016

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

Trinity College’s new mission statement states that “we link students, faculty, and staff to form a diverse community of learning.”  It also reaffirms that “we support all members of our community in achieving their potential.”  These aspects of our shared purpose are very much in mind as I consider recent questions from faculty, students, and staff about what Trinity can do to support immigrant students who feel anxious right now about possible changes ahead in national policy, particularly those with recognized status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). This program grants certain undocumented immigrants who arrived as children renewable work permits and exemption from deportation.

In light of these questions, it is useful to describe how Trinity intends to support all members of our community and particularly those who feel apprehensive right now.  Foremost in my mind is to reaffirm to Trinity’s students, faculty, and staff our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and nondiscrimination, which are values embraced by our ongoing Campaign for Community as described in my letter of April 21, 2015. In keeping with these principles, we also affirm the following:

  • We will continue to maintain confidentiality of student information according to provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and will not voluntarily share such records with government agencies unless compelled to do so by court order or legal action.
  • We will offer to connect undocumented and DACA students to individuals in our alumni network who may be able to offer legal assistance.  If you know of alumni or others who are interested to help in this effort, please ask them to contact Steve Donovan, director of alumni relations.
  • We will establish an emergency travel account through the office of the dean of campus life and vice president for student affairs to support the needs of our DACA students.  Please click here to request information on how you can help provide these resources.
  • We will continue to monitor our campus for acts of bias or harassment and will renew our commitment to the Campaign for Community.
  • We will facilitate a series of dialogues in the spring semester bringing together small groups of students for free and open discussions of different points of view on topics that are of renewed interest following the November elections.

In recent days, more than 100 faculty members signed a petition to request that we establish Trinity as a “sanctuary center of higher education” (see the letter minus signatures here). It is not clear what a “sanctuary center of higher education” entails.  In the process of exploring the meaning of a sanctuary center, we discovered that Hartford and Connecticut residents currently have multiple safeguards.  The City of Hartfo​rd is a sanctuary city and has adopted local ordinances that guarantee access to city services regardless of immigration status and that limit the authority of Hartford police to inquire into the immigration status of individuals with whom they interact.  The State of Connecticut also has laws that support undocumented residents.

In the meantime, I do think that it is important to state Trinity’s unequivocal support for the undocumented students who are members of our campus community and the value that they bring to our educational experience and institutional mission.  These are complicated issues, and on Monday, December 5, I will hold open office hours from noon–1:15 p.m. in the Cave to discuss this or any other topic of interest on campus.


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College
Professor of Neuroscience​