September 3, 2015

Dear Members of the Trinity College Community,

Just an hour ago, I joined our new students, their families, faculty and staff members ’neath the elms for Convocation, a ceremony with deep historic roots at Trinity that marks the beginning of the academic year.  Convocation is, for me, a powerful and exciting event – with the welcoming of a new class of Trinity students to our academic community and the promise that Trinity holds to provide a life-changing educational experience.

Among the more than 560 students in the Class of 2019, many participated in one of our nine pre-orientation programs, ranging from hiking the Appalachian Trail on Quest, to participating in leadership training with Venture, to joining Hartford by Bike, a two-day cycling program in our home city.  Among the most popular was Amazing Race Hartford, in which competing teams of students navigated the city searching for clues that reveal Hartford’s vibrant arts scene, long and rich history, state and city government, and career opportunities.  Take a look here.

The Bantam Network Is Live!
We at Trinity have been busy preparing for this day and this academic year.  Over the summer, we put the finishing touches on the new Bantam Network, the mentoring network designed by current students for incoming students.  Faculty, staff, students, and our new Trinsition Fellows have been at work planning the programs that will engage each Nest, while builders have been working  –  at a feverish pace – to complete renovations to the kitchens and lounge spaces in our first-year residence halls.  The Bantam Network was designed to connect incoming students to the individuals and resources that will deepen their college experience and ease their transition to college life.  Learn more about the Bantam Network here.

Student Leadership and the Campaign for Community
More than 150 student leaders returned to campus early to participate in training to serve as first-year mentors, resident assistants, PRIDE leaders, and members of student working groups.  On Tuesday, I addressed these students at the launch of one of our most important initiatives: the Campaign for Community.  This campus-wide initiative is designed to promote a culture of inclusiveness, respect for others, self-respect, and responsible behavior.  Over the fall, five teams of student working groups will shape the ways in which we engage in conversations about these subjects, helping us to define the kind of community we wish to be.  Cultivating the behaviors that support inclusiveness and respect for all individuals is a priority not only for living within the Trinity community, these also are qualities that Trinity students will take into the world when they graduate.  I ask for your full participation as the Campaign for Community moves forward.

Academics at Home and Abroad
The Bantam Network and Campaign for Community are two examples of the ways we’re supporting one of our campus-wide institutional goals of strengthening campus culture.  Over the summer, faculty and staff involved in our multi-year project for reaccreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) also have been at work.  Under the direction of the Dean of the Faculty’s Office, this rigorous self-study covers all aspects of Trinity’s academic program and provides an opportunity for an objective, in-depth study of the ways in which we educate our students. We welcome this opportunity to review our academic programs – to identify the ways in which we meet our own and others’ high expectations and plan for our future.  Ensuring academic excellence at Trinity is among the most important responsibilities of my presidency, and Trinity’s NEASC reaccreditation self-study process – which happens every 10 years – could not be more timely and valuable.

Trinity’s faculty is central to the high academic standards of the College, and this fall we welcome six new tenure-track faculty members who bring impressive credentials for scholarship and teaching to our classrooms and labs.  I welcome Jen Jack Gieseking, Assistant Professor of American Studies; Timothy Landry, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Religion; Rachel Moskowitz, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Law; Robert Outten, Assistant Professor of Psychology; Per Sebastian Skardal, Assistant Professor of Mathematics; and Nicholas Woolley, Assistant Professor of Economics.

Despite our seemingly quiet summer campus, many students and faculty were deeply engaged in work.  Eight Trinity students completed training with Alison Draper, Director of Trinity’s Science Center, that prepared them to help teach summer workshops on Trinity’s campus for rising high school sophomores from Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy.  For 10 weeks beginning in mid-May, 80 of our students conducted intensive research on campus with Trinity faculty members and participated in weekly programs through the College’s Summer Science Research Program.  Off campus, Professors Jeff Bayliss (history) and Jonathan Gourley  (environmental science), led a new fieldwork course, “Seismic Disasters in Japan, Then and Now: Earth, Environment, and Culture,” which brought students on a tour of sites in Japan that have been impacted by such disasters.  And faculty members Xiangming Chen, Michael Lestz, Joan Morrison, Beth Notar, and Yipeng Shen led students on a two-week traveling investigation of the river cities and urban sustainability in China and Asia.

Changes to Campus
As you return to campus, you’ll see some changes to the campus landscape as well.  In addition to the renovations to spaces in first-year residence halls, construction is progressing quickly on the new music rehearsal and performance center adjacent to Austin Arts Center, with completion anticipated for January. You’ll also note improvements to the immediate north of the Life Sciences Center, with the removal of an aging wall in favor of attractive landscaping.  Construction will begin this month on the new bookstore and café near the Crescent Street Townhouses, scheduled for completion next summer. And improvements to the football, soccer, and baseball/softball fields will take place over the course of the current academic year.

An Update from Last Fall
Last fall, I announced the formation of a Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct to lead Trinity’s initiative to assess and improve our policies, procedures, and training for preventing and responding to sexual misconduct.  The task force issued last week the report of its important work, including specific recommendations, and it can be found here.  Additionally, I asked several task force members to continue meeting during the summer to draft formal language for a policy on the reporting and adjudication of sexual misconduct that reflects the recommendations of the task force and current laws.  That policy may be found here.

The Future
In addition to our new faculty members, this summer we welcomed two key individuals who will lead our efforts in Student Life and in Admissions.  Angel Pérez joined Trinity on June 1 as Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success.  Angel will lead our effort to recruit, admit, and retain the very best students to Trinity College – work that is critical to Trinity’s academic reputation and to ensuring the best outcomes for students who enroll at Trinity.  Joe DiChristina arrived at Trinity on July 20 as the Dean of Campus Life and Vice President for Student Affairs.  Like Angel, Joe has already brought to campus an energy and a focus that will enable him to bring together and enrich all the areas related to campus life at Trinity.  On a related note, look tomorrow for a follow-up letter from me with more about student life.

Joe and Angel join a team here at Trinity that is highly attuned to the immediate goals of the College:  ensuring academic excellence, strengthening campus culture, reaching financial equilibrium, and fostering institutional pride.  During the last year, my first at Trinity, we have made a strong beginning.  The work in which we are engaged will continue to strengthen Trinity, and it will take time to bear fruit. This is especially worth noting during the fall, when college rankings are issued.  As I wrote to you last fall related to the release of the seemingly most visible of these, the U.S. News and World Report ranking of colleges, we believe the true value of a Trinity education was not reflected in its rank. And I did not find Trinity’s rank at that time acceptable.  The College’s goals that I have outlined here are priorities because they are in the best interests of Trinity College.  They will also, I believe, ultimately, and over time, have a positive impact on Trinity’s rank.  (For more on the factors that form a college’s rank by U.S. News, go here).

Trinity’s campus is buzzing with the energy created by students and faculty returning to campus for the start of a new academic year.  There’s no better time to be on a college campus, and there’s no better place to be than Trinity College.  I invite all of our students and faculty to stop by to say hello and to introduce yourselves during what I like to call my open office hours.  Stop by on Tuesday, September 8, between 10:30 and noon, or on Thursday, September 10, between 12:15 and 1:30 p.m. at Vernon Social.  I will invite members of the President’s Cabinet to join me.

Welcome back!


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College
Professor of Neuroscience