September 5, 2017

To the Trinity College Community,
The rhythm of an academic year is comforting. In the spring, we send our graduates off with celebration and ceremony, feeling proud of the people they’ve become and excited by the bright future that awaits them. Over the last several days we have been welcoming the Class of 2021, transfers, and IDP students during pre-Orientation and Orientation, including a beautiful Convocation ’neath the elms. Fall sports teams are practicing, and the full life of the campus is returning. You can get a sense of our auspicious commencing of activities with this video featuring highlights from the start of the year.
But this isn’t just any year we’re starting. While many of the routines are the same, the context in which we begin this year and the work that’s ahead of us are far from ordinary. This year, as a community, we will take on two essential, interconnected tasks. One of these is to finalize our Bicentennial Strategic Plan and move quickly into the work to achieve our goals for the future. In articulating a set of aims for the College we want to be, we affirm and recommit to the fundamental values of this nearly 200-year old liberal arts college, and we look to all of you as partners in sustaining and advancing this community of bold, independent thinkers. I’m pleased to share with you the draft Bicentennial Strategic Plan, built from committee reports and with the input and dedication of so many Trinity community members both on and off-campus. Once more I ask for your feedback on the ideas and plans therein. With your feedback, we will take a final draft to the Board of Trustees for its consideration in October.
The second task before us this year is one that may feel overwhelming, but it is essential and is deeply tied to the values we espouse in the Strategic Plan. This is the work of evolving as a just community of learners. The work is unending, of course, and it is urgent. Today, it feels especially critical as we endeavor to do things that seem impossible in our society right now: to embrace difference and promote an inclusive community, to engage across divides, to listen with empathy, and, most importantly, to see each other’s humanity.
Even as we are excited to begin another academic year, members of our community are still troubled by what occurred with Campus Reform and Professor Williams over the summer. I respect the various points of view individuals hold. I will work to provide the space and the occasions for people to express themselves and to heal so that, ultimately, we can continue to move forward in a positive and respectful way.
We start the new academic year as many in Texas are facing herculean challenges as a result of Hurricane Harvey. We have seen stories of inspirational acts of kindness and heroism, and I’m sure that many within our community have stepped up to help. At the same time, we are troubled by the hatred and violence in Charlottesville, threats to peace worldwide, and the disturbing news about the anticipated ending of the DACA program. How do we combat those things that run counter to our core values? I don’t have all of the answers, but It feels as though a good place to start this semester is by supporting one another. Please join us for a brief community gathering, “Community Time for Healing and Hope,” today from 11:30 a.m. to noon in the Chapel. I’m delighted that Cornelia P. Thornburgh ’80, chair of our board of trustees, will join us for this important coming together. I hope to see you there.
Support and compassion are critical. So are speaking our minds and standing up for our values. Diverse perspectives are welcome here. Hatred and violence are not. We will continue to be a place to have difficult, but civil, dialogue across social, economic, racial, and geographic divides. How else can we learn to be members of a just society? This important work started at Trinity long ago, but the events of this summer r​emind me how vital our educational work is.
That’s why, with the start of the semester, the President’s Office is launching a broad, year-long initiative called Bridging Divides: Higher Education’s Role in Advancing Understanding and Promoting a Just Society. In undertaking this initiative, which connects directly to our ongoing Campaign for Community, we invite all members of the Trinity community to own this effort and to bring ideas and energy to create events and conditions that invite dialogue and deep consideration of race and racism, academic freedom and freedom of speech, power and privilege. There will also be events organized by other campus groups on these themes. Our emphasis will be on engaging in productive, respectful discourse on such complicated issues and, given the recent violence on other college and university campuses, on the safety and security of our campus community.
In addition to these campus events, some of which we’ll share with alumni and parent audiences through video and social media, we are working to invite and develop small-group discussions and storytelling sessions, performing and visual arts, and other endeavors dedicated to addressing these issues, both on campus and off. We’re just getting started, and you’ll hear more soon. Join us, please, in these events, in engaging with our Strategic Plan, and in the work of making Trinity extraordinary, now and in the years to come.
Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience