A Response to the Response- the White Papers and the Brain Trust
Recently I came across a thirty page manifesto which claims to be the voice of an oppressed student body fighting an unjust administration and the “White Papers.” It was released just a few days ago; I have already come across a number of passionate- even angry- responses against it. To tell you the truth I too had a strong initial reaction to the document. But rather than continue the cycle of rants and counter-rants, I’m going to try to put what historian skills I have in breaking “A Tale of Trinity” down piece by piece- the good and the bad.
It starts by claiming that it is a response to the White Papers. If you are unfamiliar with the White Papers, the document stated a number of goals that Trinity should reach by 2023- the bicentennial. One of the focal points became the papers’ hinting at a removal of Greek life, citing that it was damaging our reputation and academic excellence, and that we were one of three remaining NESCAC schools with fraternities. However, the response does not immediately address this subject, so why don’t we start with the basics and some of the missteps.
The paper clearly took a lot of work. Except for a number of grammatical mistakes, it is well written, uses sources, and has a table of contents. It is a collaboration between five students, who take pseudonyms such as Adam Smith and George Orwell. This to me is one of the more ridiculous ideas- not only do they fear some kind of repression from the administration for exercising their right to free speech, but they consider themselves in the company of famous economists and writers. This is only the first of many, sometimes comical, delusions.
There are many issues with a document like this. For one thing, there is a lack of a clear idea. Topics range from technology to spending. It is also riddled with contradictions and often void of any real suggestions. One of the first sections engages in a sweeping criticism of liberal arts education and advocates “practical learning.” However, the only actual suggestion to improve academics in that section is for students to have two advisors instead of one. Of course later the paper says we need to have more philosophy classes and spend more time examining “What makes each individual unique?” This challenges their own idea that the only point of college is to get a well-salaried job (neglecting of course any mention of improving the world, helping others, or following your passion). The ridiculousness does not end there.
They single out specific professors as part of their sweeping criticism of Trinity’s faculty, complaining of being treated as inferiors. They talk of studying in fear of exploding pipes and collapsing roofs. They discuss the need for a greater connection with the community, but there is no mention of racism, student on student violence and bigotry, elitism, partying, the negative aspects of fraternity culture, or how “security kiosks” would affect our already fragile relationship with the surrounding area (all while making a number of assumptions about the nature of the assault last semester- the same assumptions that severely scarred the aforementioned relationship).
At times it sounds more like self-righteous fluff than reasonable demands from an articulate group of students (at one point being anti-frat is equated to the policies of North Korea, and later a meme is used to disparage President Jones). To conclude, it states that after all of the issues we have faced, it is now time to actually expand fraternities and make cultural houses more frat-like. Now I really have nothing against Greek life on a personal level- I have many close friends who are brothers and sisters in various organizations, and I too have good memories of time spent at some of the houses- but this is no time for such an expansion.
Fraternities are not purely evil, immoral institutions, and I’m sure issues would arise in the aftermath of a removal, but we cannot even pretend to be serious about social change until we eliminate Greek life entirely. As a member of the Honor Council, I can tell you that literally every case I was on involving acts of bigotry, violence and abuse included Greek life in one way or another. At the end of the day, frats are institutionalized partying. They attract the wrong students and create the wrong students, and do not belong at an institution of higher learning. Finally, if you are serious about safety, you should be serious about their removal (i.e. more than a few kiosks). More safety is crucial, but a holistic approach is necessary, and you cannot neglect the role that Greek life plays if you want to make a real difference. Now that being said, even after all of these issues, I can’t say that the Brain Trust’s paper was entirely negative.
Between the jokes, there were some valid suggestions. I love the idea of an open curriculum, like the ones that Brown and Amherst have. We should absolutely have more competition on campus in the form of different businesses, so quality goes up and prices go down. Philosophy should be encouraged. Spending should come under control and wasteful projects should be scrapped. We should have a more active career services and more oversight of the Student Government. But that being said, even these positive ideas (as much as I like them) lack any true creativity. Some are actually recycled from the White Papers.
Still, I appreciate their attempt to begin a dialogue, as flawed as this first attempt may be. What we need now is honest discussion and a rational approach to the problems that affect Trinity College. Otherwise all we do is come off as self-entitled fools without even the slightest idea of what is truly best for our beloved college. If this trend persists, nothing will change- at least not for the better.