Trinity College’s conformative campus culture

ELISE KEI-RAHN ’16
STAFF WRITER
Recently, Trinity College’s administration made the decision to launch a full fledged initiative aimed at combatting the dearth of diversity on campus. Unfortunately, we outwardly wear a skin of white privilege, which for some individuals is a source of pride while it’s a source of misery for others. In reality, Trinity College contains a plethora of students from mixed backgrounds—our institutional makeup has the opportunity to celebrate numerous ethnicities, geographies, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Simply stated, Trinity College is already a diverse community. As students, we have the opportunity to engage and participate in and explore an interesting social landscape. After we leave Trinity, we will settle into new populaces where there will paradoxically be less of an opportunity to broaden one’s own horizons.
There is a consensus that we have a lack of unity, and the voices of these opinions, though they come from specific niches on campus, all hold a heterogenous opinion. So why do many people at Trinity find our community to be a confusing social maze, rather than easily discernible? The answer to this question was originated within the work of contemporary social scientist’s René Girard.
Girard describes human nature’s need for similarity, which is a concept that is applicable to the structure of Trinity College. At the very root of Girard’s theory is the notion of imitation, a longstanding mechanism used in adaptation.
When we arrive at Trinity College as First-Years we transition into the established process of needing to adapt to this unknown environment. At Trinity, we are constantly surrounded by the idea that we are lucky to be at an elite institution. We observe others, whether it be alumni or our peers, achieve success. Each of us wants to obtain our own version of success, although common themes can be identified within each students individual goals and ideal achievements.
What sets Girard’s work apart from other applicable theories to describe our environment is the role of desire. Girard suggests that our desires are always, not sometimes, instigated by another person. If individuals imitate each other’s desires, they typically end up desiring the same object, whether it be physical or metaphorical. And if these people desire the same things, they have the capacity to become rivals because they are in competition for the same thing.
As I previously stated, Trinity aspires to be a successful community—this is an admirable cause. However, the issue with this type of community, a community defined by an equal playing field where we can all be successful, is that we will find ourselves descending into a larger conflict with ourselves. Competition between ourselves is more apparent when we resemble one another.
Now, I’m not talking about physical appearances. I could not care less about whether you wear salmon colored pants, Sperry’s, or a Barbour jacket on the Long Walk because these objects help you blend in with the landscape. I personally love Patagonia’s for their warmth and can’t wait to break out my Bean Boots as soon as the weather declares that it’s cold enough. Choosing to dress, or not dress like your peers, is a deliberate decision.
Rather, I’m referring to the fact that we deliberately choose to accept the fact that we resemble one another when discussing the need for Trinity to be successful. To some, this alludes to the necessity of a more diverse Trinity diverse in order to succeed as an institution.
To others, this means remaining a school rooted in tradition. But to most, this means floating on in an uncomfortable manner and this acts as a catalyst to creating the hostile, unwelcoming community. Too many people on this campus want to accept the status quo.
Deliberate conformity is a conscious method of navigating an environment, but conformity becomes brainless at a certain point. Our campus needs more viable forms of expressing how we think our community can be successful. We don’t need to be force fed the idea that we have the capacity to be diverse; we can recognize that we’re all distinct and we all desire self-preservation.
Now I’m not saying we all need to stand together on the quad and sing Kumbaya together. That would be absurd. What astonishes me is that we can laugh about the fact that no one smiles at each other on the Long Walk, or that Mather has unwritten designated eating areas, but we choose not to argue about the fact that these observations honestly allude to the borderline slave-like adherence to social conformity no one wants to provoke.
The convergence of success, diversity, and individuality is indeed difficult on our campus because there are invisible barriers that will take monumental time to deconstruct. The first step to combatting issues our campus faces the most difficulty in surmounting is to become more vocal.
I see Trinity entrenched in a cold war, a conflict with no direct combat. We don’t want to say anything remotely opinionated because we fear that we won’t be accepted by our peers.
If we want a community where diversity—however you personally define this word—is truly valued and fostered, we need to hear where we each think these problems are, and how to solve them. Proactively speaking abour and analyzing the problems only does so much; the student body must act in order for the culture to change.

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