Your College at U of T: Trinity

Good Monday, dear readers! I hope you had a fantabulous mini-break and caught up on things you needed to do, be it homework or essays or seeing friends or sleeping. I, for one, am inordinately pleased that I got caught up on the last activity. Today for our heptadic saga, we have Dean Steels* from Trinity College, as well as a cameo from Provost Andy Orchard!

* His first name is Jonathan, not Dean. He’s the Acting Dean of Student Life, see? It’d be funny if a guy named Dean became Dean, though. It’s like, hello, Dean Dean *insert last name*!**

** Apparently, I’m nonetheless still sleep-deprived. Ignore me.

Can you tell me briefly about the history of the college, and where the name came from?

I can tell you it’s old. Trinity was founded by John Strachan, the first Anglican bishop of Toronto, in 1851.

What’s unique about your college?

Trinity is the smallest college at U of T, with roughly half of our first-year students in residence. We have around 1,800 students total, and around 400 new incoming students each year. We have an active and engaged student body who run their own student government at the college and hold formal events every year. We also have an Academic Don program, where grad students from particular disciplines are available to help our students with their academic studies.

Do you have any mentorship programs at the college?

We have a mentorship program which pairs alumni and current students. Certainly we are interested in developing more formalized mentorship programs. We have also have Academic Dons and peer counsellors, although they are not involved in a formal mentorship program.

How does the selection process to the college work?

Since we’re so small and get so many applicants, you have to rank us as your first choice when you apply to U of T. From there, you are invited to submit a “personal profile,” which is essentially answers to a few different essay questions that help us to see the student as a whole, as opposed to just his/her marks. Of course academic scores are taken into consideration, but extracurriculars are as well, and in the essay, we’re looking for creativity and originality, as well as grammar and spelling … you know, the usual stuff.

What are some of the common stereotypes of your college, and what do you think about them?

One that I’ve heard is that we’re elitist. Certainly we have a high academic standard and we have some excellent programs that are hosted here, as well as a pretty vibrant history. But we are among the most culturally diverse colleges, with students from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. I think the variety of our student activity and initiatives is a clear demonstration of that.

What’s with the robes?

The gowns are held from a tradition when Trinity students used to wear gowns to classes, a tradition derived from British post-graduate education. Students wear them to student government meetings and to formal meals.

There was a recent article in the Toronto Star about the college. Can you tell me more about that?

Provost Andy Orchard: The Star article, published in May, focused on an event that took place off-campus in March at which perhaps as few as two per cent of the current student body was present, by a group (“Episkopon”) from which the College long ago disassociated itself because of their consistently divisive, derisive, antisocial, and offensive behaviour. Whatever one might think of the rest of the piece (overwritten and under-researched are two opinions that I am aware of), the headline is bang on: Trinity remains “tainted” by a moribund tradition of often puerile pomposity that perhaps simply needs to cease. Trinity is not the college of 150, 100, or even 50 years ago, when “Episkopon” was very much a part of college life, and it is a sadness that so much attention is given to what is no longer representative, and is indeed deplored for its corrosive effect …

More productive, perhaps to celebrate a number of new initiatives and achievements at Trinity, most of which I did indeed mention to the Star reporter. The fact that he chose to ignore them altogether says much for his predetermined point of view … As a sometime classics scholar, I cannot help noticing that the Latin word that underlies the word “tradition” means both “to hand on” and “to betray.” It seems to me that Trinity is not obliged to accept all of its so-called traditions; and Episkopon has betrayed the college badly. It is certainly not a problem that, having inherited, I intend to hand on, even if others view me as a traitor to “Old Trin.”

[Cynthia's note: As you can see from my ellipses, Provost Orchard actually took the time to write me a very long and very thorough reply, right before a flight to England. Although I wanted to print his reply word for word, we simply do not have the space. However, even from this excerpt, you can tell that the Provost really takes exception to the old stereotypes and is bent on changing them.]

What are some of the clubs that are unique to your college?

Students for International Development sends around 10-15 students to Peru and Kenya each year. We have the Trinity Environmental Club, and played a big role in the development of our green roofs as well as the installation of our roof-top solar panels. Rainbow Trinity is pretty active as well – they’ve been helping to host the U of T-wide LGBTQ orientation for the last two or three years. We also have one of the oldest – if not the oldest – university debating societies in Canada, called “The Lit”. Actually, our student government in itself is pretty unique, as students have the ability to make influential decisions at the college.

What resources are available for commuting students?

Two of our student government leaders make up the Non-Resident Affairs Committee (NRAC), and student fees provide a sizable amount of funding for commuting students. Of course, all the resources available to resident students are available for non-resident students as well, including all our spaces, lounges, dons, pianos, etc. Also, we have two rooms which non-resident students can book if they’re here on a late night and want to spend the night at the college.

What about scholarships and bursaries at the college?

They range from (automatic awards for) highest average in a given discipline to scholarships that are based on community involvement in combination with grades.

What’s available to eat at the college?

We have two dining halls – one is a pretty large, formal hall, and the other one is smaller, more intimate. Both offer full service: cafeteria-style, with pre-determined menus. They have salad bars and different soups that change every day. We also have The Buttery in the commuter lounge space, where there’s Pizza Pizza, Starbucks, etc.

What are the residences like?

Our residences are older, charming buildings, but don’t worry – we’re fitted with wireless and modern amenities. We have a mix of single and double dorm rooms and dons interspersed throughout.

Why should students choose your college?

We’re a smaller college in the context of U of T. Students will have the opportunity to get involved here and get to know one another and the administration.

Can we close off with a fun fact?

Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson went here!

Reflections, thoughts…

Fun story: I got to meet Adrienne Clarkson (and Jim Balsillie!) during the matriculation convocation thing, which was great, except of course my mom called to ask how the ceremony went. I ignored my phone ringing, because we were outside and the crowd was pretty loud anyway, and I was meeting Adrienne Clarkson (who has her own arms, for goodness’ sake), but apparently, “The Imperial March” cuts easily through chatter and laughter: Adrienne Clarkson levelled the frostiest stare at me and said, “You should take that,” before turning away. Oops. I’m sorry, Adrienne!

So, as you can tell, I’m a Trin kid, and I totally remember that personal profile I had to fill out. I remember that year, we were given a picture with a bench on it, and we were asked to write a 500-word reflection. I totally ran with it, and wrote an angsty, heart-wrenching tale of a young girl in diary format. It was definitely one of the most enjoyable entrance essays I wrote that year, and only after I submitted it did I have second thoughts about whether or not I should have been more … sophisticated. But hey, I got in! Good enough for me.

Before you ask, I do have a gown, and it has just the right amount of swishiness. As a commuting student, I rarely get to wear it (and also miss out on a lot of the traditions, boo), but it works great as a Harry Potter costume in a pinch! Also, as Dean Steeles said, the student government runs the place, basically, so you need a gown if you want to vote on any of the issues being discussed.

And yes, you wear your gown to formal dinners. Speaking of which, commuting students get 10 free meals every year on their TCard, which is amazing during exam week when I don’t want to think about bringing food to school.

If you look at the building, it is quite old and imposing – the floors creak, and I have the urge to whisper if I need to say anything. If you go in and make a left, you’ll reach our chapel, and if you’re lucky, somebody will be playing on the gorgeous organ that we have.

On the other side (make a right when you enter) is the Registrar’s Office. It’s an intimate space, with three desks where you sit face to face rather than stand in a line over long tables. I remember, when I was a first-year student, the registrar himself made appointments with all of us to check up on how we’re settling into university. It definitely made me feel at home right away.

It’s surprisingly easy to get involved at the college – I went to Kenya the summer of my first year with Students for International Development and spent 10 weeks there doing rural development projects. Along the way*, I met some great people, immersed myself in a completely new and different culture, and became the adopted daughter of one of the Maasai. It’s a great program, and way more affordable than other study/volunteer/travel-abroad programs at the university. Believe me, I’ve looked.

* I also took a guy to court, learned how to distinguish between the feces of most of the farm animals, and stared face to face with a lioness.

And that’s my experience with Trin as a commuting student. I really hope resident students can comment on their experience – it’s going to be different from mine.

Finally, I’d like to leave you off with one of our delightful (and facetious) little yells. So, WHO ARE WE?

We are the Salt of the Earth,
So give ear to us!
No new ideas shall ever come near to us!
Orthodox! Catholic!
Crammed with Divinity!
Damn the dissenters,
Hurrah for old Trinity!

Until next week, with New College,

- Cynthia