Trinity’s charm is both its draw and its curse


Trinity’s vintage style has long been simulatenously her appeal and shortcoming.  Our throwback image attracts plenty of prospective students to one of the few liberal arts colleges that still embraces Greek life.  They’re delighted by all our formal events or the social emphasis placed on the quad – especially as these small anomalies fade out on other campuses.  In the old buildings, preppy dress, and time-honored traditions they find the appeal of an earlier era.

But another camp has demanded Trinity catch up to the times – worried that remaining in the past threatens necessary progress.  Underlying all our cultural similarities to the mid-20th century, they see the same social inequalities/injustice that beguiled that time.  They worry that the popular fashion disfavors students who can’t afford those brands, the Greek culture perpetuates elitism, the social atmosphere discourages cultural awareness or diversity.  In our traditions and attitudes, they see the vestiges of a discriminatory and obselete world order.

The question becomes, then, whether or not we can embrace our classic charm without also relying the injustices that characteristized the earlier American culture we emulate.  Can we continue our Greek legacies, our tailgates, our fashion preferences, our ornate ceremonies, and all our other anachronisms without pushing out low-income or minority students?  Do we threaten our relevance to the world if we prefer the old ways?

I suppose that style in inextricably tied to structure – but with conscious effort we can separate our cultural tendencies from any underlying prejudice or outdated assumptions.  We don’t attack elitism by redirecting our fashion preferences or shutting down Greek houses.  Instead, we ensure inclusivity within the existing system.  We allow diversity in our brotherhoods and sisterhoods.  We embrace our popular fashion without devaluating others.  We welcome our entire community into those storied traditions, rather than doing away with them all under the vague guise of “progress.”   In all of our global pursuits, we have to seek opportunity for expansion rather than distance the college from her ties to old New England culture.

But we have to show equal care to make sure we never pander to the Old Guard to keep these traditions alive.  A retro flair does not justify recruiting only from upper class New England as an act of self-preservation.  In fact, we need to challenge any practice that needs such a racial and socioeconomically base to continue.  If we can do away with the legitimate cases of elitism or discrimination, then we can bring Trinity the necessary steps forward without eliminating all of the other, innocent social quirks that give us character.  But if we continue to resist any change at all, progressive forces will inevitably dismantle our entire culture – good and bad – to restructure it appropriately.

Our objective is not to start war against reasonable progress, though.  Instead, we need to accept that some of our cultural norms as draconion so that we can stomp out any injustice ourselves and preseve the appealing elements.  We can keep our letterman’s sweaters, our formals, our elaborate reunions – but never as a means to keep others out.  The emphasis only has to be placed on inclusivity in these traditions.  Otherwise, we’re risking xenophobia – stalwarts refusing to admit that our unique culture might include some failings that we must address if we want to continue our unique legacy as a school stuck in time.

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