November 21, 2022

Dear Trinity College Community Members,

On March 31, 2021, I wrote to the Trinity College community to reactivate the Committee on Named Facilities and Commemoratives to create a thorough and deliberate process for the naming or renaming of spaces and commemoratives on campus. Here, I note the progress on that work focused on the process to consider renaming or re-envisioning commemoratives.

The committee met throughout the 2021–22 academic year to consider a set of principles that would guide naming decisions on campus. The committee was chaired by the dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs and included the prescribed membership of faculty, students, alumni, staff, and administrators. Consultants from MontgomeryWill facilitated the meetings and conducted focus group interviews.

For a broader context, over the past decade, a number of academic institutions—public and private colleges and universities and military academies alike—have grappled with their past through names and commemoratives on campus, particularly relating to an institution’s relationship with race and gender. Much of this work has been with an eye toward acknowledging the institutional racism and sexism associated with past commemoratives as the groundwork for supporting a more inclusive present and future. Here at Trinity, we have taken the opportunity to name and rename some campus spaces through a lens of inclusion: Wheaton Hall has been renamed Trinity Hall; the Cornelia Center is the first building named after a female alumna; and the Borges Family Admission Center carries the name of a Black immigrant family with four children who graduated from Trinity College.

Today I share a draft set of principles and a proposed process developed in collaboration with the Committee on Named Facilities and Commemoratives and subsequently reviewed and endorsed by the Board of Trustees. Any member of the Trinity community can invoke these principles and the process to initiate a review of names of buildings, spaces, professorships, other activities or programs, and/or commemorative objects on the college’s campus.

Below are the seven draft principles:

  1. Trinity has a mission statement. Our commemorations should be consistent with this statement and the tenets it puts forth, which reflect our collective community aspirations. We recognize that this statement and its tenets may evolve as the institution evolves.
  2. Names matter. How we name and commemorate spaces and places on our campus not only should recognize and celebrate our past but also should support our fundamental values as an institution of higher education.
  3. As we are an educational institution embarking on our bicentennial year, considering our named spaces is an important element of exploring our history. One underlying goal of this exploration is to provide our community an opportunity to reflect, to analyze, and to learn more about our rich history.
  4. Names and commemorations can be questioned, and after review, changed. If a name is changed, the college should make available to the public an acknowledgment of and rationale for the change. As a reminder of our history, Trinity originally was named Washington College and effected a name change about 22 years after its founding.
  5. Our standards for renaming may vary in different spaces and should engage our community in open, honest dialogue. One of the complexities of a college campus is that it serves multiple functions—classrooms, residence halls, and athletics fields may have disparate standards when considering naming because their functions and how an individual relates to them can be quite different. The college community should have an opportunity to weigh in and to articulate, from their point of view, a rationale for changing a particular commemoration.
  6. If controversial names are to remain, context should be provided. We may choose to contextualize a commemoration rather than remove it. We must own our past and not try erase it.
  7. We should develop a clear process that includes scholarly, fact-finding components to weigh the evidence for renaming or changing commemorations. A draft of this process can be reviewed by clicking here.

To assume that this process of considering renaming will be without controversy is to assume that the quest for truth is easy and without debate. It often is through our opposing opinions that we can learn and ultimately agree on what is fact and what is just.

These draft principles and the proposed process described in the link above are meant to stimulate important conversations and receive input broadly from our community. Please click here to comment, and your input will be considered before finalizing these principles and this process. However, the final designation of names and commemoratives at Trinity College is a fiduciary duty of the Board of Trustees for which it holds ultimate responsibility. All comments to this draft policy should be submitted by January 18, 2023.

As an educational institution embarking on its 200th year of existence, we have a collective duty to continue to probe our history, even as we celebrate our values with pride and recognize that what and how we name things matter. Names have mattered in our long, storied history and will continue to matter into our next century.


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience