Trinity College students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Washington Room of Mather Hall on October 17 to join President Joanne Berger-Sweeney P’22 and Cornelia P. Thornburgh ’80, the chair of Trinity’s Board of Trustees, for a conversation about “Women in Leadership.” This event was organized in conjunction with Trinity’s three-semester-long “Women at the Summit” programming celebrating 50 years of coeducation at the college. WTNH News 8 reporter Sarah Cody ’95 moderated the discussion, which explored challenges and opportunities for women in general and on Trinity’s campus specifically.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney and Cornelia P. Thornburgh discuss ‘Women in Leadership
Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney P’22 and Cornelia P. Thornburgh ’80, the chair of Trinity’s Board of Trustees, discuss ‘Women in Leadership.’ Photos by Shana Sureck Photography.

“Women in Leadership” recognized the bravery of Trinity’s first female undergraduate students, who arrived in 1969, and reflected on the achievements and leadership positions held by women on campus since then. Berger-Sweeney said, “I hope those women are proud of us, the ones who broke down barriers.”

Discussion about enrollment showed there is a constant and conscious effort among Trinity’s administration, along with the Board of Trustees, to make Trinity more inclusive and gender-balanced. “The classes are very even right now,” Thornburgh said.

WTNH News 8 reporter Sarah Cody ’95 moderated the discussion
WTNH News 8 reporter Sarah Cody ’95 moderated the discussion.

Berger-Sweeney talked about how her experiences, both as a neuroscientist and an alumna of Wellesley College, an elite liberal arts college for women, positively impacted and transformed her perspectives. Berger-Sweeney said, “I have a large, diverse cabinet. I can hear a lot of voices and take those perspectives into consideration when making a decision and figuring out what is best to do moving forward.” She noted that, of the 11 NESCAC institutions, six currently have female presidents, with two of those also having a female board chair.

Following Berger-Sweeney’s reflection, Thornburgh added, “Men and women are different in the way they interact with one another… Joanne’s leadership has bridged those divides and promoted a sense of community.”

President Joanne Berger-Sweeney P’22 (center) responds to a question from moderator Sarah Cody ’95 as Cornelia P. Thornburgh ’80 (right) looks on.
President Joanne Berger-Sweeney P’22 (center) responds to a question from moderator Sarah Cody ’95 as Cornelia P. Thornburgh ’80 (right) looks on.

After describing their broad leadership experience, both professionally and socially, as female leaders, Berger-Sweeney and Thornburgh highlighted positive instances of female leadership on Trinity’s campus. Female leaders can be found in student government, athletics, Greek life, and the student-run newspaper. Trinna Larsen ’20, president of Trinity’s Student Government Association, attended the event and said that Berger-Sweeney’s emphasis on collaboration resonated with her. “Since being in my position, I have learned quite a bit about not only what it means to support others, but what it means to be supported,” Larsen said. “Being a leader is not about telling people what to do and hoping they listen; it is about working with others and facilitating a team that, together, can serve its greater purpose.”

Gillian Reinhard ’20, who was elected editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper The Trinity Tripod for the 2019-2020 academic year, said, “At the beginning of my time on the paper, it was difficult to voice my opinion or lend a hand with projects. However, I have had a fantastic group of students to work with who have inspired me to lead well and produce something we can all be proud of each week. Holding a leadership position has been the most transformative aspect of my time at Trinity.”

(L-r) Chair of Trinity College Board of Trustees Cornelia P. Thornburgh ’80, moderator Sarah Cody ’95, and President Joanne Berger-Sweeney P’22 after the ‘Women in Leadership’ panel.
(L-r) Chair of Trinity College Board of Trustees Cornelia P. Thornburgh ’80, moderator Sarah Cody ’95, and President Joanne Berger-Sweeney P’22 after the ‘Women in Leadership’ panel.

Both Larson and Reinhard added that their effectiveness as leaders stemmed from the guidance and support they have received from others. During the panel discussion, Thornburgh said that mentors and sponsors provide two different categories of support. “Mentors give you advice, yet sponsors go a step further, as they are women who will stand up for you in the workplace, classroom, and on the athletic field,” said Thornburgh. She added that one way female students at Trinity find mentors and sponsors is through the Venture Trinity women’s leadership program, a pre-orientation program which provides incoming female students with essential skills and strategies for navigating their collegiate and professional lives.

A new task force that Berger-Sweeney is co-chairing will look specifically at the status of women at Trinity. In Berger-Sweeney’s own assessment of the status of women at the college today, she said she described it as “good, on a trajectory to being better.”

See a video of the full conversation here.

For more information on “Women at the Summit,” click here.

Written by Emily Wickles ’20