Commencement 2024: Remarks to the Graduates

May 20, 2024

Commencement 2024 was a glorious, albeit soggy affair as we gathered on the front lawn on Friday evening and Saturday morning to award more than 200 degrees amid drizzle and raindrops.  The weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of our graduates, and we extend congratulations once more to all!  Because of the rain, we chose to set aside some of the prepared speeches — but there are some important messages here, and so below are links to all of the speeches, both those delivered “live” and those that we withheld.  I hope you can take a few minutes to read and reflect on these:

Ms Karla Núñez Pérez ’24, B.S. in Public Health and Sociology, summa cum laude

Ms. Chaka Asaskiwa Alexander ’24, B.A. in Early Childhood Education, summa cum laude

Dean Sita Ramamurti, College of Arts & Sciences

Dean Brigid Noonan, School of Nursing and Health Professions

Dean Christine Carrino Gorowara, School of Education

Dean Thomas Mostowy, School of Professional and Graduate Studies

Given the importance of the issues, I am taking the liberty of publishing my entire text below, and I hope you can take time to read this and offer comments in the comment box:

Remarks for the 2024 Commencements
President Patricia McGuire
Trinity Washington University

Each year at commencement it is customary for the president to provide a brief report on the state of the university and the state of the world we expect our graduates to lead and change for the better.

I am pleased to say that the state of Trinity is well.  We continue our celebration of Trinity’s 125th Anniversary era, recalling the courage of the religious women who blazed trails twelve decades ago so that our students today could walk across this stage armed with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the larger society.  Each day we thank the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, our Founders, for the many gifts of Trinity in our lives.

This year we have enjoyed the many successes of our students and faculty.  You are the class that has triumphed in spite of so many setbacks — the strange, alienating years of Covid-19, the racial reckonings after the death of George Floyd, the weird and often bizarre acts of political theater that take away too much time from serious national governance.  You have achieved so much despite these challenges.

We celebrate the achievements of our faculty.  We are particularly pleased and proud to recognize Dr. Stacey Baugh of Psychology who was promoted to Full Professor by the Board of Trustees.  We also recognize and congratulate Dr. Joshua Wright who achieved tenure, also conferred by the Board of Trustees.

We also are saying thanks and farewell to three cherished faculty colleagues who are retiring.

Dr. Lee Chiang of Mathematics has been an invaluable member of our faculty for almost 30 years, since 1995.  A colleague fondly describes him as our “Differential Equations” guy. He was instrumental in getting the Math faculty to adopt statistical tools and computing platforms such as MATLAB and Minitab in his early years at Trinity. He is one of our most gracious and most helpful colleagues. Dr. Chiang goes with our deep gratitude for his devotion to Trinity and our students.  We wish him much joy and fulfillment in the next phase of his life pursuits.

Dr. Luane Oprea of Counseling has been a cherished member of the faculty for ten years, since 2014.  She earned tenure and promotion to associate professor in 2020.  Dr. Oprea played a central role in securing the first CACREP accreditation for the Counseling Program, and she has been a vital partner with Dr. Greer in advancing the Adverse Childhood Experiences Trauma Program supported by Kaiser Permanente.  As she retires, Dr. Oprea has our deep gratitude for all that she shared with us, and we wish her every joy and fulfillment in her next life stage.

Dr. Cynthia Greer arrived at Trinity 31 years ago as an associate dean in counseling and advising, soon becoming the Dean of Students, and later joining the faculty in Education and Counseling, moving up the ranks through achieving tenure and becoming an associate professor.  She contributed significantly to Trinity’s ability to secure CACREP accreditation.  A tireless advocate for social justice, her vision and leadership led to major funding from Kaiser Permanente to establish the ACEs in Trauma Program.   As she begins her well-deserved retirement she goes with the heartfelt gratitude of the entire Trinity community.

And now, a few words about the “state of the world” as we find it in 2024:

We cannot enjoy the gifts of a Trinity education for our own pleasure; the world beyond Michigan Avenue needs the advocacy, strength and resilience of every Trinity graduate across the years.  We are reminded that this weekend marks the 70th Anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education mandating integration in schools; and yet we know that progress in racial equity remains slow, even rolled back in some places.  We cannot relent in our quest for racial justice in these United States.

Among the many intractable problems that plague our world today, none may be more serious than the prevalence of violence that destroys lives, shatters families, hollows out the soul of our society.  This violence manifests itself everywhere we turn — the lawless street violence that murders a 3 year old baby sitting in a car in southeast; the official police violence that shoots young Black men at alarming rates; the state-sanctioned violence that treats immigrants and refugees at the border as disposable goods; the violence of terrorism that suddenly, cruelly drops horror from the sky, ripping families and nations apart; the nation-state violence of war that levels an entire civilization and its people in a mad act of retribution against the horrific act of terrorism.  Violence begets more violence.

How will we ever find a pathway to end the violence that has characterized so much of the first quarter of the 21st Century?

Colleges and universities are supposed to be places of reason that forge solutions to society’s most complex problems.  We teach our students that education is the antidote to violence, that knowledge can conquer the fear and ignorance that fuel human oppression, that the best solutions to achieve peace emerge from learned debate and dialogue, not shouting or intimidation.

But too often, as we have seen this spring, that lovely rhetoric floats away like so many soap bubbles, with the hot klieg lights of incessant media and political exploitation exposing the fault lines of the academy as a very human institution suffering the same ills as the society we are called to transform. At a time when Democracy, itself, faces challenges as never before from within our own country, with the real threat of potential loss of our fundamental freedoms and right to self-determination —- higher education seems convulsed in chaos and confusion, or so the headlines claim.

True, too many universities have become too self-referential, preoccupied with their status in rankings and wealth and sports championships, unable or unwilling to use their once-considerable social standing to be voices of reason and righteousness against the rising anti-democratic factions.  Too many college presidents increasingly refuse to mount the bully pulpit, even in the face of profound threats to academic freedom, freedom of speech, the right to due process, the right to equal protection of the laws, the very ideas of Democracy that are also essential for the university to function.  Silence becomes a debilitating concession to the authoritarian diktats that want less free speech and more conformity, fewer protests and more deference to power.

So it is, this spring, while some universities pursued an increasingly indefensible posture of silence, students and faculty spoke out against the terrible violence and horrendous human suffering in Gaza.  We just heard our eloquent Senior Class President Karla Núñez Pérez speak courageously on this issue.  We can have many different opinions about the politics of Israel and Palestine while standing in solidarity against the terrorist violence suffered by Israelis on October 7 and the violence of the Israeli war of retribution that has destroyed Gaza and tens of thousands of Palestinian lives.  We must certainly stand firmly against both Islamaphobia and anti-semitism.  It is no offense against the quest of the Jewish people to have safety and enjoyment in their own nation to say that Palestinians deserve the same. It is not unpatriotic to say that the United States must find its moral spine to broker a just and lasting peace rather than funding this horrific war.

In the midst of this crisis, some politicians have sought to exert control over universities by exploiting the campus protests, bringing pressure to bear on college leaders to tear down the encampments and discipline the demonstrators in a naked campaign to debilitate higher education by forcing us to repress free speech and academic freedom.  Rather than standing up against this outrageous abuse of political power, some universities have given in to the pressure, inviting extraordinarily repressive police responses against their own students and faculty.  If college campuses cannot tolerate the noisy cacophony and occasional chaos of righteous protest, what institutions can? Higher education must be the great counterweight to government to protect our free society.  But we cannot possibly say we stand for freedom if we destroy freedom in the name of saving it.  We cannot find solutions to violence if we default to violent tactics to maintain order.  We fail in our purpose as universities if we penalize faculty and students for expressing opinions that are disagreeable to our donors, our political overseers, our alumni or trustees.

And so I come back to the meaning of this day, this commencement, and what it means for all of the days to come in your lives, my fellow alumnae and alumni in Trinity’s Class of 2024.  Despite the chaos around us, Trinity is not at all confused about our mission and purpose, and neither are you, the great Red Class of 2024.  You already have deep lived experience in the most pressing human challenges of this century.  You have crossed borders, often with great peril; you have suffered discrimination because of who you are, how you look, how you speak, what you believe, who you love; you have witnessed the violence, indeed, you have experienced the awful consequences of lives and families shattered by violence.

And yet, despite or maybe because of your lived experience, you have become powerfully resilient, wildly ambitious, visionaries of a different future, unafraid to speak truth to whatever powers need to hear your voices loud, proud and persistent.  You have come here to Trinity to develop the talents you will need to lead your communities and families to that better future of our fondest hopes.  You will be nurses, counselors, business executives, diplomats, journalists, scientists, advocates and lawyers and community organizers.  Most important, you will be parents and teachers for the rising generations.  And in all of those roles you fulfill, you will also carry with you the hallmark values of Trinity:  a disposition of service to others, a passion for racial and social justice for all, relentless in your quest to be change agents for peace in every community you influence.

Trinity will be cheering you on each day, and praying for you with our great Trinity prayer, that the strength, wisdom and love of the Trinity be with you each day and through all the days to come.

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VOICES OF TRINITY: CLASS OF 2024 SHARE AMAZING STORIES!

May 12, 2024

Congratulations to all students who are graduating this week with the Class of 2024, a great Red Class!  I am delighted to share some of the very moving, powerful stories of members of this class.  If you’d like to share yours, we still have time!  Send me a paragraph and a photo to president@trinitydc.edu

Eric Mullins, SPS, BA in Health Services

My name is Eric Mullins, and I am a third-generation Washingtonian from Southeast DC, a community where many do not achieve a high school diploma or college degree.

In Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son,” he writes, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” This sentiment resonates deeply with me. However, I embrace my journey and am grateful for the person I have become. As the eldest of six children growing up in public housing, I quickly assumed significant responsibilities. An absent father and the murder of my mother placed me under my grandmother’s care, requiring me to step up even more to provide for our basic needs. Adversity has been a constant companion, but so has my determination to overcome it.

My educational journey has been filled with challenges. Navigating the DC public education system left me feeling unprepared, and coupled with a learning disability, feelings of inadequacy were frequent. Nevertheless, I viewed every obstacle as an opportunity. I took additional classes after high school to prepare for post-secondary education and sought mentorship to guide me. This support system has been crucial to my growth. I have balanced a full-time job while being a part-time student at Trinity for many years.

I enrolled at Trinity in 2010 and began my educational journey in 2011. It has been a long and transformative experience. I started my associate’s program at TheARC offsite Trinity campus in Ward 8. Throughout my academic career, I faced numerous ups and downs, primarily due to feeling inadequate compared to my peers because of my learning disability, ADHD. Additionally, I struggled with self-advocacy. Although Trinity offered accommodations and professors were supportive, I resisted utilizing these resources, not wanting to feel different from others. This mindset hindered my progress, resulting in poor grades and placing me on academic probation nearly every semester. Balancing full-time work and part-time studies was extremely challenging, but my resilience and determination kept me going. Those who know me understand that my perseverance is unwavering. I was committed to obtaining my bachelor’s degree, a goal I set for myself, and I was determined to achieve it, regardless of the time it took.

During my time at Trinity, I faced significant personal losses. I lost my grandmother to cancer in 2019. In 2020, I earned my associate’s degree, an achievement that profoundly impacted me. Reflecting on this accomplishment, I was moved to tears, realizing the significance of my academic journey. This motivated me to pursue my bachelor’s degree. I re-enrolled at Trinity, but in January 2021, I faced another devastating loss: my youngest sister passed away due to pregnancy complications, shortly after our family celebrated my grandmother’s birthday. Once again, my family had to navigate profound grief.

Despite these challenges, my sisters, Myeeka Mullins and Tatiana “Chyna” Mullins, and I have become first-generation college graduates and proud Trinity alumni. Myeeka graduated from Trinity in Winter 2018, Tatiana in Spring 2020, and I will be graduating on May 17, 2024. Trinity has profoundly impacted my life and helped my family continually inspire and motivate one another to pursue our dreams. We have learned to overcome difficult life events to achieve our goals, demonstrating resilience and determination every step of the way. This degree is a symbol of my perseverance and determination because it stands as a testament to my unwavering commitment and resilience, embodying the magic of never giving up.

Additionally, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to Professor Faith Mitchell and Professor Rihem Badwe for their patience and invaluable support throughout this past academic year. Thank you, Dr. Temi Aregbesola, for your motivational talks that helped me persevere through incredibly challenging times. I am also deeply thankful to Dr. Nicole Betchman for your unwavering support and encouragement, for not allowing me to give up on myself. I still vividly recall coming to you and saying, “I think I need to withdraw from your class because work life is really impacting my academics,” to which you responded, “You will not be withdrawing; as long as you have something for me by the presentation date, you have time.” This reassurance kept me from mentally checking out during several difficult moments this past semester. This experience also allowed me to take accountability for communicating my needs and seeking the support I needed from my professors. From the bottom of my heart, I am profoundly grateful to all of you.

Honorable mention to Professor Denise Akers: Thank you for your unwavering support and for making learning non-stressful and fun. Your approach to teaching has greatly contributed to my positive academic experience.

Shanyce Lyons, CAS, BA in Business Administration

My name is Shanyce Lyons and I am the first generation to graduate from college. I’ve been at Trinity Washington University since 2019 and at that time I was majoring in nursing. Nursing major was very difficult for me, so I transitioned into business administration in late fall of 2021. The journey of getting my bachelor’s at Trinity Washington University has been a great experience. The beginning of this spring semester has been full of worries, bad, and good times. Before the semester started, I was worrying about whether I was graduating or not, then when the semester began, I got bad news that I wasn’t going to be graduating. Finding out that I wasn’t going to graduate was so upsetting. Right after class I went to talk to my advisor and after finding out why I wasn’t graduating I took an uber home. On my way home I saw a sign from Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Seeing that sign let me know that God is always there for me, that he will fight my battles, and that I should not worry but trust in the plans that he has for my life. Later that day I got a voicemail from my advisor saying that I will be graduating. The experience that I had at Trinity Washington University was a great experience that I will never forget. Also, Trinity and their professors helped me to learn a lot about life and the work environment. All I can say is God got me where he wants me, and I give him all the credit. Thank you, Trinity Washington University, for helping me to get my bachelor’s degree.

Diane Nelson, NHP, Bachelor of Science in Nursing

After working for many years as a LPN, I entered Trinity Washington University in 2012 through the SPS. I was a pre-licensure nursing student with a desire to get my BSN.

My journey has been one of navigating through pain, grief, loss and obstacles on the road. During this period, I had to take a leave of absence on two occasions because of the caregiver role that required me to care for members of my family. Those family members are not here with me now, but I honor them every day. My resilient journey is a testament to them as well.

This “older adult” is so grateful to Trinity Washington University, for supporting me on a revealing and inspiring journey. I am looking forward to being an advocate, mentor and an inspiration to others as they pursue their own journey of spiritual, physical and intellectual growth.

Sundarys Spencer, SPS, BA in Early Childhood Community Education

My name is Sundarys Spencer and I am proud to be a Panamanian graduating with a bachelors in community education. This means a lot to me because I wanted to become a teacher because I grew up with a family of educators.  This has been a long process because I work full time during the day and I was attending the evening classes at Trinity but it wasn’t impossible.  I am grateful for the professors that were graceful and understood how difficult it was to work and attend school at the same time.

 

Tracy Evans, SPS, BS in Accounting

I cannot believe I am graduating with a bachelors degree at 53 years of age. I was a homeless kid my junior and senior years of high school and never graduated. In 2010 I obtained my GED after realizing I was being a hypocrite to my children, yelling at them to keep their grades up. I thought I was complete. Three years later, my sister asked me what I was going to do with my GED. I responded, nothing. What was I supposed to do?. She said I was to enroll in college. So I did.

My first class was 18th Century Art (which I knew nothing about) but I somehow passed the class. YAY me. I was on the Dean’s List, learned about APA and was purchasing gear. Then my mom passed away and my #1 cheerleader and motivator was gone. I tried to return but the drive was not there. It is said “the children will lead”. I watched my nephew earn his undergrad from Morehouse and his Masters and PhD from the University of Miami.

I found my motivation. I contacted my advisor who advised me I had 6 classes to go. I work 7 days a week, attended hybrid classes AND I am now eligible to graduate with my Bachelors in Accounting. I have been accepted to the Masters Program at Trinity and started the research for a Phd program. While my Mom was my biggest motivator and cheerleader,  I am proud as a single mom of four children whom I got through high school. They are proud of me. They cheer me on. They motivate me. I’m a grandma now. The babies are still leading me to do better and be better. I am grateful for Trinity’s SPS Program. I am proud to become a Trinity Alum.

Sierre Allen, SPS, BA in Early Childhood Education

God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers and I must be indestructible because these four years have been the ultimate test, but I persevered. I am a walking testimony that you can be anything and do anything you set out to be.

 

Becoming a teen mom at 17 changed my life completely. I wanted to finish high school and attend college, but I did not have the support needed to get there so that forced me to drop out of high school. Leaving high school as an honor roll student when I was determined to go back and finish really put me in a terrible mental space.From that point, depression set in, but I knew I had a mission in life and that was to be something great.

 

My life already had its challenges from growing up in what they consider “the hood” in DC and living in poverty would already create challenges throughout my life and now I have a child to care for which made it ten times harder. I also had to deal with so many people having their own viewpoints on my life and how it wasn’t going to be possible for me to be successful because I had a baby young really took a toll on me. The one thing that I always remembered is that I am smart and I am the author of my own story. I knew that anything is possible and you must start somewhere even if there are challenges.

 

So I went back to school and got my GED because I knew I could do it. I gave myself a few years to bring in some income so that I was able to take care of my daughter. When covid hit, the perfect opportunity to attend college came because all classes were online so I had time to figure out a babysitter when the time came to start going to class in person. Once I started college, more obstacles came, but I didn’t let it stop me. My dad passed away two months after I started my first semester, Fighting for custody for two years to gain guardianship of my younger brother, losing my stepfather in January of this year and then my aunt two months later. I say this all to say no matter how tough life gets, you will get through it. You have to stay strong and keep going because you are the Author of your own story. Everyone will have a story in the end as to how they got there, but all that matters is that you made it!

Rita Larkins, BGS, Master of Business Administration

My name is Rita Larkins. Soon, I will be a proud graduate in the MBA Program.   As I stand just weeks away from graduation, I find myself engulfed in a whirlwind of reflection and celebration. This moment not only marks the culmination of one journey but also signals the beginning of another, filled with boundless possibilities and untold adventures.

Throughout the past three years, we’ve weathered the storm of uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, navigated through uncharted territories of knowledge, and juggled the responsibilities of work, family, and academics. Yet, amidst the chaos, we’ve emerged stronger and more resilient than ever before. Trinity has been our laboratory, shaping us into individuals equipped to tackle the challenges of business, finance, and entrepreneurship with unwavering determination.

As I look towards the next chapter, I am filled with a profound sense of purpose—a drive to not only excel in my chosen field but also to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. The pursuit of a Ph.D. beckons, fueled by a desire to leave an indelible mark on this world.

I depart Trinity, armed with the wisdom gained from my experiences. I am ready to embark on a journey of service and excellence, knowing that every step forward brings new opportunities for growth and learning. In a world where perfection is often hailed as the ultimate goal, I am reminded that true progress lies in our willingness to embrace imperfection and continuously strive for improvement—not just for ourselves but for the betterment of our communities. We are the example that all things are possible.

To my fellow graduates, I extend my heartfelt congratulations. May we continue to forge ahead with courage and conviction, leaving a trail of impact and inspiration in our path forward.

Sarah Jalloh, CAS, BA in Health Services

I feel so honored to be graduating from Trinity. Even though my journey was a bittersweet one but I’m grateful it’s all ends in praise.

I relocated to States from Sierra Leone ( West Africa) when I was 20 years old by myself. My main goal was for me to further my education and make my family proud. I enrolled myself to Trinity 2018 and began my education journey 2019, it’s been 5 years of wonderful experiences. As I work full time and go to school full time, it was really hard but I keep pushing myself to be a better student. With the help of wonderful Professors, Advisors and Managements at Trinity, I was able to get through the difficult times.

Today I’m a 27 year old young lady who Trinity Washington University has shaped, taught, prepared and trained for a better future with integrity, good leadership skills, respect, empathy and good values. I’m proud of my school and ready to represent Trinity.

As I walk proudly on stage in few weeks to receive my B.A in Health Services, I want to take this moment and thank all my Professors, the office of enrollment, thank you. My advisors throughout the years, thank you. President Pat McGuire, thank you. Dean Bowie, thank you. Ms. Martha Molina, thank you.

On January, I sponsored and relocated my Parents to the States and they will be here to celebrate with me. I will like to dedicate my Degree to them, mom and Dad I made you proud. Also, to my husband who is serving in the U.S Air Force, I want to thank you for your wonderful support. I am living my American dream. Thank you again Trinity, I will definitely come back for my Masters. Congratulations red class of 2024, we did it.

Kristina Fleming, SPS, AA in General Studies

My name is Kristina Fleming and I am a first generation graduate. I am so excited to have reached this milestone as I have worked tremendously hard to get here.

Where I come from most people do not receive a degree or a high-school diploma.  There were times I wanted to quit because things got rough but I didn’t, because I couldn’t. I grew up in foster care with a child who was 1 year at the time and I always told myself if I want better I have to do better. So here I am receiving my degree and going on to further my education to become a social worker.

Despite the immense challenges faced, I  managed to graduate from college with becoming a shining example of perseverance and determination. My journey from being a teen mom to overcoming a life-threatening health crisis is a testament to my indomitable spirit and unwavering dedication to achieving my dreams.

As I walk across the stage to receive my diploma, tears of joy and triumph will stream down my face, knowing that I defied the odds and emerged stronger than ever. I would like to thank Karen Gerlach, My professors, the mentors from my scholarship program, and anyone else who played a role in helping me succeed.  I Beat the odds!

Chiquita Page, SPS, BA in Early Childhood Education

When I started my journey at Trinity 6.5 years ago, I didn’t think I would finish. It was just talk to try the “college thing” and increase my income. There were many trials and errors and days I just wanted to quit. However, Trinity has some REAL LIFE professors who wouldn’t allow me to give up and not to mention some AWESOME students who can motivate and push you to be successful.

As a mother of 3 I wanted to give my children something more to be proud of their mother AND completing my undergraduate degree is just the icing on the cake. My village has grown throughout my educational career and although I will be back for my masters it is safe to say I will forever endure the undergrad journey.

Trinity WE did it! You all got Chiquita through it and successfully, check those grades out. When you are focused, determined and willing to be successful then success is what you will be!

Dione Janifer, SPS, BA Early Childhood and Community Education

My name is Dione Janifer.  I am  number 2 of K-6 or Kathy’s 6 as my siblings and I lovingly refer to ourselves in memory of our late mother.  After graduating from Trinity Washington University in my living room in the midst of the pandemic January of 2021 I was encouraged to continue my studies.  I knew my goal was to obtain a bachelor’s degree and so I started working towards my degree in Early Childhood Community Education the following year. The support of the DC Lead Scholarship and the amazing professors here at Trinity Washington University supported my academic journey.  My family and loved ones kept me encouraged and motivated during the tough times of balancing academic studies and working full time.  This degree is a symbol of perseverance and determination because on the toughest day I never lost sight of the goal.

Ishan Musawwir, SPS BA Early Childhood Community Education

What a journey it’ been !! My name is Ihsan Musawwir and I finally finished my first degree. I started this journey 11 years ago when my daughter was 3 years old. I always had/have a love for teaching children. When I started my journey years ago, I didn’t think that it would be a hard path. From changing schools, having different jobs in childcare, and having my son in September 2016 I never thought I would see the finish line. When Covid decided to change the world in January 2020, it changed the course of everyone’s lives. My place of employment closed due to the pandemic and my children were home. I created a home-school environment for children to support in-home learning. In January 2021, I enrolled at Trinity and restarted my educational journey. From the beginning, Trinity has supported me in classes with additional resources such as tutors and library services. The professors have shown tremendous support as I have completed my assignments. Also being a part of the AEEC program has supported me in my personal growth as a single mother in school. The program has supported me with resources to support my children and me to make sure I stay committed to my educational journey. As I start the second half of my educational journey with Trinity, I want to say THANK YOU for all your support and guidance as I finished my first degree in Early Childhood Education. I have become a better educator through classroom experiences and hands-on learning.

Sondreen Johnson, SPS, B.A. in Journalism and Media Studies

My name is Sondreen Johnson. I’m a single mother of four children, who tragically lost their father when I was pregnant with my youngest. During that time of my life, I felt as if I was broken beyond repair. So many people made me feel as if my life was over and that I should depend on government assistance to raise my children. I didn’t believe that I would be anything but who people told me that I would be.

Even still I made a promise to my now four children that I would provide an extraordinary life for every one of them regardless of our misfortunes that I attended to keep. Their father’s passing wouldn’t be the end of my story. I would strive for greatness I just had no idea how I would keep that promise and so desperately wanted to escape my reality which I did by spending most of my days writing my life away.

I escape when I write, and very soon fell in love with it. With that thought, I decided to turn my pain into pleasure by placing my thoughts on paper. I found solace with a pen and surprisingly my life purpose. That’s when I quickly realized that I not only wanted the world to know my story but also would like to tell other people’s stories as well. To become a journalist was my destiny.

Fast forward to eight years later, I’m now a published author who majored in Journalism and communication. When I graduate at the end of the week I will be able to keep the promise that I made to all of my children. I did it! Despite so many people telling me that I couldn’t. I did it. Despite how badly I wanted to give up. I did it! Despite the lack of belief in myself at times. I did it! I pushed myself, I overcame every obstacle. I showed every single person who doubted my ability to achieve excellence!

I embodied the exact definition of resilience, but most of all I kept my promise to my children and that alone is the biggest gift that our creator has bestowed upon me. My degree is a representation of the love that I have for my children and this is only the beginning. Especially when my brilliant penmanship is the composer of the story. Trinity Washington University has been an inspiring part of my journey. Thank you all for helping me prove to myself that I’m worthy. Thank you for giving me a safe space to write a heartfelt chapter of my story. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for playing a major part in my self discovery.

Joie Thornton, BGS M.A. Strategic Communication and Public Relations

It feels amazing to graduate from Trinity again [this is Joie’s second Trinity degree!]. As I’m getting closer to graduation, I have been having moments of self-reflection. This journey was rocky for me, I’ve struggled mentally and physically during my last year while working a full time job. If it wasn’t for my support system, I don’t know how I would have made it through. Shout out to my advisor, Raushanah Bullock as well.

With the days leading up to graduation the reality of my accomplishments have begun to set in. This degree is part of my elevation and shaping me into the woman I am in the process of becoming. I’m currently in the Senior Living industry and while completing this program I had begun to elevate in my career. Started out as a Move-in Coordinator and now I’m a Communications Manager.

This program has shaped me into a better woman from the curriculum to the professors. I’m excited to see how far I go from here. Thank You, Trinity.

Dymond Sellers, EDU, Master of Arts in Teaching: Early Childhood Education

All glory be to God! As a young student obtaining her B.A. in Public Health in the year of 2015 I never imagined my career path would lead me to education. Finding it difficult to gain employment to jumpstart my career in the Public Health field I chose to become a substitute teacher. It was then when I first fell in love with Early Childhood Education in 2017.

After spending half the school year with a class of Pre-K 3 scholars I knew that I had found my calling. I was impressed with the students’ enthusiasm to learn and their curiosity when it came to new or found materials. In addition to their tenacity when taking risks and learning new things despite obstacles they may face in or outside of the classroom. During my time as a substitute teacher I expressed my interest in becoming a paraprofessional (teacher’s aid)  and my educational career took off from there. After four years of studying and learning from some of the very best educators, I decided that I too wanted to become a teacher. Thus, I began my path towards obtaining my Master of Arts in Teaching from Trinity Washington University.

While only just beginning my degree with Trinity in 2020 I was offered the role to become a lead teacher for the 2020-2021 academic school year. While teaching I learned the importance of social emotional development in my young scholars. I learned that the pandemic had taken so much from us. Not only loved ones or time spent with those we care for, but the ability to positively and effectively communicate our thoughts and emotions as well as communicate our wants and needs to our peers around us. This was displayed heavily in my classroom environment and so it has become my purpose to ensure my scholars a safe haven where they feel welcome and are able to express themselves while learning to value the opinions of others. Therefore, after completing my fall and spring courses I then took a break from Trinity to focus on my passion. During the academic school year of 2021-2022 I was invited back to Trinity to continue my studies. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to re-enroll and continue my journey to obtaining my masters.

This journey to graduation has been challenging, yet fulfilling. During finals week of this past 2024 Spring semester I experienced as one of my professors said “both ends of the emotional spectrum.” From losing a parent and getting married all within finals week it was the grace and goodness of God that held me together. In addition to my uplifting support system (husband, family, friends and supportive professors) I was able to confidently work towards my goal.

Therefore, on Friday May 17th, 2024 I will be walking across the stage not only for myself but for my parents/family who have always encouraged me to be a lifelong learner, for my husband who has been a rock during early mornings and late nights studies, for my professors who have instilled the tools in me for success, for my colleagues who have helped to equip me with a phenomenal teacher tool belt and for my young scholars who have given me a new outlook on life. One that says to be brave and take risks, meet others where they are, remind me that it’s okay to make mistakes and always have fun!

Vanessa Ramirez, BGS Master of Science in Administration in Leadership and Organizational Management  (her second Trinity degree!)

It is bittersweet to think that my time at Trinity has ended. After completing my undergraduate degree at Trinity in 2020, I thought that was the end of school for me. Thankfully, in the struggling moments of finding a job during COVID, Trinity gave me a chance. After being hired and surrounded by an amazing group, they motivated me to begin my graduate degree in Fall 2022. Although I no longer work at Trinity, I have stayed in touch and even took classes with those who helped me begin this program. The last two years have been filled with unforgettable memories and people and I will forever be grateful for the impact Trinity has had on my life.

A shout out to my Trinity family in Enrollment Services & Registrar for motivating me to continue my studies, to my wife who supported me throughout my studies and saw the good and bad times, the amazing faculty that I have met throughout the MSA program, and to those considering pursuing their Graduate degree – it is worth it!

Estephany Bonilla, CAS B.A. in Community Education

My name is Estephany Bonilla and I am so proud of this beautiful accomplishment that I get to share and experience along with my family. I went into college scared of failing and doubting myself.  There were times where I would cry because of the challenges that came along with going to college, terrified that I wouldn’t make it but, here I am today about to walk that stage in a couple days. I couldn’t be more proud of myself and couldn’t have made it without the support of my family, God and the amazing professors who made an impact during my experience at Trinity!

Chaka Alexander, SPS, BA in Early Childhood Education

I’m Chaka Alexander, and my journey has been one of determination, resilience, and immense love for my family. As a mother of four incredible children ages 6 to 25, balancing full-time work, full-time schooling, and full-time motherhood has been my reality. Graduating under four years wasn’t just a goal but a testament to my steadfast commitment to providing the best for my children. The road to this achievement has been challenging. Every time I embarked on my educational journey, another blessing entered my life: the birth of a new child. Despite the challenges, my determination never changed. In the fall of 2020, I decided to return to school again, and now, in the spring of 2024, I stand on the brink of graduation.

Throughout this journey, my family and children have been my pillars of strength, keeping me focused and motivated. Additionally, the support of my talented professors and amazing classmates has been invaluable in helping me push through every obstacle. I am deeply grateful to God for blessing me abundantly and guiding me through this journey. All praise Him for His unwavering support and guidance. As I look ahead, my path opens to obtain my master’s and doctoral pursuits. I firmly believe that the only limitations in life are the ones I place on myself, and with that mindset, I step forward fearlessly into the future.

Cindy Alvarez, SPS AA in Early Childhood Education

Straight out of high school I went to work in retail and grew so much from it, 10 years of growth. I received my CDA and started to work with children, it was always my dream ! There I got the opportunity to go to school and I’m so happy I got accepted to Trinity Washington University.  Life throws you so many curve balls and you never truly know or expect what comes next. I never expected to be a college graduate with my Associates in Early Childhood Education. This is dedicated to my parents, husband,my son, nieces and nephews. It was the craziest time of my life but I am truly blessed to have my family by my side !

Lawren McCoy, SPS BA in Early Childhood Education

My experience at Trinity Washington was an emotional roller coaster. Returning to school after being out for about 10 years was not for the faint of heart. I was a mother, a wife, and a full-time educator, facing long nights, early mornings, and many tears. Persevering through adversity, especially during a pandemic, was incredibly challenging. I give all the glory to God, the Most High, for helping me make it through.

I want to thank Professor Rowe for all the guidance, Mrs. Lynch for advocating on my behalf, Professor Ponder for the words of wisdom and accountability, and all the professors who poured into me. My journey doesn’t end here. I am now pursuing a Master’s degree at Trinity Washington in Strategic Communications and Public Relations. Additionally, I aim to earn two certifications: one in Educational Policy and the other in Social Justice. The word says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” and I tend to do as such.

Thank you Trinity Washington University for building me into the leader I am today.

LaWan Sweeney, SPS B.A. in Business Administration/Human Resource Management

This experience has been incredibly humbling and fulfilling. As a young mother, my top priority has always been my children’s well-being and success. This meant putting my own educational goals on hold for a while. However, now is my moment. I am finally achieving a goal I set for myself, and it feels truly incredible. I am grateful to Trinity for creating an environment where I could thrive and forge connections. It has been a privilege to meet so many inspiring individuals with similar experiences and aspirations. This journey has been immensely rewarding, and every step has been worth it!

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The Influential Women Who Founded Trinity

April 30, 2024

Sr. Julia McGroarty, Founder of Trinity

Last week we celebrated another delightful Founders Day, paying tribute to Sr. Julia McGroarty and the Sisters of Notre Dame whose courage and vision made today’s Trinity possible.

On April 15, Trinity Campus Minister Sr. Ann Howard, SNDdeN, (photo below) gave a wonderful talk on the Sisters of Notre Dame who founded Trinity.  This presentation followed an earlier talk by Fr. Stephen Thorne on Trinity’s Catholic identity.  Sr. Ann gave me permission to publish her talk on my blog.  Enjoy!

Sr. Ann Howard on The Influential Founders of Trinity

Good noontime, everyone!  Welcome to Breaking Bread with the Sisters, an event sponsored by the Billiart Center for Social Justice at Trinity Washington University.

Look around, everyone is welcome!  This event is open to students, staff and faculty and alumnae alike… and includes three parts- nibbling, listening, and socializing.  FYI, the homemade whole wheat bread is baked by Sr. Camilla Burns, and the water provided by Sr. Mary Hayes.

Today, our topic is “the beginnings of Trinity: Who were the three most influential founders and their peers?

How Trinity began and who were the main protagonists, and how and why we are here today. Following this presentation on the founders of Trinity you will be sharing thoughts at your tables with your table-mates.  Today, Rose Parlor looks like the Synod in Rome!  We begin with the Trinity Prayer:

  The Trinity Prayer

May the Power of the good God govern and protect us.

May the wisdom of the son teach and enlighten us.

May the love of the Holy Spirit renew and quicken us.

May the Blessing of the All Holy Trinity:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us now and forever.  Amen.

The last time we gathered, Fr. Thorne (photo below) spoke about the Catholic Identity that Trinity Washington University enjoys.  He named four pillars—Sacred Encounter (how we say hello to each other and learn each others’ names), Catholic Social Teaching, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), and having an Open Mindset , on which Trinity, as a Catholic institute of higher learning rests.  Trinity’s beginnings are very interesting, now celebrating 125 years.

I am referencing four sources for this presentation:  Sr. Mary Hayes’s article on the Founding of Trinity College and the Design of a Program for the Higher Education of Women, which she presented in 1982 before the American Catholic Historical Association. Three Against the Wind, by Sr. Angela Elizabeth Keenan, Christian Classics, 1973, and Trinity College, The First 80 Years, 1897- 1977, the purple book, by Sr. Columba Mullally, in Christian Classics 1987. I also draw from President Patricia McGuire’s blogs.

In the late 1800’s the Catholic orders of Sisters in the United States were coming from Europe as missionaries.  Many of them were charged with starting schools for Catholic children. The Sisters of Mercy, the Daughters of Charity, The Blessed Sacrament Sisters, and so many other religious orders worked basically for free to educate the children across the US.  Why education? Because education offers a person a chance to realize herself.  The gospel mandate, spoken in John’s gospel by Jesus, says, “I have come that you may have life to the full.”  Education can lead one to fullness of life. (John10:10)

In cities and in rural areas, Catholic Sisters took it upon themselves, with the invitation of various local bishops, to establish schools for children, many of whom were immigrants.

In 1840, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur came from Belgium to Ohio as missionaries, to begin the US ‘mission’ which today extends—in the US– from the west coast to the east coast.

Fast-forward fifty years to 1889, when Catholic University was being built in DC, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were situated in this region, and taught at Notre Dame Academy for Girls where North Capitol meets K St.

Most Catholic colleges have a founding order, a Religious Congregation that imbues their own ‘spirit’, their charism, onto the school they build.  For example, Jesuit college prep schools, and universities teach St. Ignatius’s charism with the words, “Men and women for others,” and, “Seeing God in all things.”

Because the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have a charism to make known the “Goodness of God in all of life’s circumstances,” Notre Dame Academies celebrate God’s Goodness.  Even today, in California, Ohio, Maryland and Massachusetts, Notre Dame Hallmarks affirm how to “Live the Good” by helping others.  They relate to the story of how the spark of Goodness—that fell from the heart of God to St. Julie, the founder of the order, and to all of us—is present within a Notre Dame institution.  The institution’s charism offers this message to the world.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur founded Trinity College, now Trinity Washington University, so we are graced, in spirit, with attention to the Goodness of God.

While some Religious congregations spring from a Diocese, answering to the local ordinary, or Bishop, and exercising their ministries in a geographic area called a diocese; the SNDdeN were founded in 1804, in France, and are a Pontifical Institute, meaning we relate to the Pope and our mission extends to many places – on five continents–throughout the world.  Julie Billiart, an intelligent peasant woman, and Francoise Blin de Bourdon, an aristocrat who experienced imprisonment during the French Revolution, believed in God’s goodness and they sought to educate women and girls.  Founded in 1804, in France, just after the French Revolution had traumatized their society, the Sisters of Notre Dame started with a ‘spark from the heart of God onto the heart’ of Julie and Francoise.  It is poetic language, yes, and that was 1804.

In 1904, one hundred years later, the first graduating class of Trinity College received their degrees and went on to live lives of promise, endowed with education.  How did this come about when popular belief was that girls did not need to be educated?

In 1889, the Catholic University of America opened its doors to men from across the country.  CUA is a Pontifical university that does not have the charism of one religious foundation, but that draws support from all the US Catholic Bishops. In the beginning, most students were seminarians, studying theology and religious studies.  Today, CUA educates men and women with a variety of majors.

According to Sr. Hayes’ paper on this topic, there were women who applied to CUA at the start, and some at CUA were anxious to respond to these women and others who sought to be educated in a Catholic environment.  In 1897, the Sisters of Notre Dame, namely Sr. Julia McGroarty and Sr. Mary Euphrasia Taylor believed it was time for women to enjoy higher education in DC.

They thought of founding an elite academy, and were encouraged, instead, to build a college, a free-standing Catholic university for women, and this, they did!

Who were these key players, known as the founders of Trinity College? Some of their pictures hang in the first floor marble corridor of Trinity’s Main Hall.  In addition to Srs. Julia McGroarty and Mary Euphrasia Taylor (photos elsewhere on this blog), the founders included some important priests and bishops who supported the founding of Trinity despite a great deal of criticism from those who believed that women should not go to college.  Some of the supporting clerics included:

Left to right:

James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore
Fr. Philip Garrigan, Vice Rector of Catholic University
Monsignor William Kerby, Professor of Sociology at Catholic University
Fr. Thomas Conaty, Rector of Catholic University

From March, 1897 until October of 1900, these key players and many besides them, worked diligently to make Trinity College a reality.

Let’s take a look at the founding Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur; there are three who are illustrated beautifully in this book called, Three Against the Wind, by Sr. Keenan.

Sr. Julia McGroarty, born Susan McGroarty, was born 1827. She was about 4 years old when her family migrated from Ireland to Cincinnati, Ohio with 5 children and then they had 5 more children. They were seeking to join their relatives who had already come, and to enhance their children’s prospects for education and work in this country.  In 1838 her father died when Susan was 11 years old. She relied heavily on the teachers she knew, namely, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Susan joined the Sisters and pronounced her vows in 1848.  We must mention her dear teacher and life-long friend and mentor, Sr. Louise, who was one of the original Sisters to set sail from Belgium and arrive in Cincinnati in 1840.

Sr. Julia had a strong intellect and was recognized as a leader.  She became Superior of the missions of SNDdeN in California and across the US to New England and the Mid-Atlantic.  She was well acquainted with the educational platforms here, and was instrumental in securing the documentation, physical plant, and curriculum that developed over the course of the last 4 years of her life, in collaboration with Sr. Euphrasia and other founders of Trinity. Sr. Julia , according to Sr. Hayes, had, “the insight, the experience, and the scholarly instincts to provide the leadership for founding the college.”  (The Founding of Trinity, Mary Hayes, SND 1982)

Sr. Julia died in 1901, just one year after Trinity College was opened.

Sr. Mary Euphrasia, born Ella Taylor, was born 1851, in her beloved Richmond, Virginia. When she was 9 years old the Civil War was enacted on her family’s doorsteps.  Her beloved Virginia seceded to the Confederacy. It sounds like they had servant-slavepersons in their home, and soldiers on their streets, as the war began.  They were Episcopalian.  Her father died of typhoid fever when Ella was just 10, a casualty of the War.  He left her with these words, “Wisdom is better than Gold”.  Ella’s education included time at boarding school and Patapsco Academy in Maryland as she studied Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, German and Italian as well as courses in Physical Sciences, Math, and Philosophy.  In 1867, at age 16, Ella chose to be baptized Catholic by Cardinal Gibbons (p.58, Three), and, after graduating, she joined the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1873 in Philadelphia, moving to Cincinnati, and eventually in Washington, DC.

In Philadelphia, Ella Taylor took the religious name of Sr. Mary Euphrasia (together, Euphrasia!).  According to Keenan, Sr. Euphrasia was drawn to the study of botany, claiming that the study of plants led to the discovery of God’s goodness, truth and beauty all around her.  Once the documentation for Trinity College was initiated, and land was purchased on Michigan Ave., Sr. Euphrasia envisioned and enlisted work for the building of Main Hall at Trinity… a beautiful building, indeed- hiring the same architect, E.F. Durang, who build the Sisters’ house in Philadelphia.

Sr. Euphrasia worked tirelessly, traveling by train to points north to secure permissions for building. Her wealthy contacts provided the needed financial resources to begin Trinity College.

Wisdom is better than Gold was in her mind and heart as she secured a foundation in Trinity’s earliest, and fledgling days.

Shortly after Trinity opened, Sr. Euphrasia was missioned to California, where she practiced detachment and began a new ministry there on the west coast, keeping minimal contacts with her DC friends and colleagues.

It was Srs. Julia and Euphrasia who collaborated with the local academic establishments and drew up the curriculum for the new Catholic College for women.  One of the Sisters selected to teach on the original faculty was Sr. Raphael of the Sacred Heart.  Sr. Raphael, aka Lucy Johnson Pike, was born in 1858 in Brooklyn, NY.  Her mother died from childbirth, was heard to say, “I return my soul and my baby to the God who created me.”  She was obviously a woman of faith, and her husband moved to Newburyport, MA, to be with the extended family who would help to raise his son and his new daughter.

The Pike family were Universalists, and Lucy’s schooling included time in MA and Detroit.  She thrived on learning with the Concord School of Philosophy and the Ipswich Seminary while in Boston, and was instructed by Cardinal Gibbons in the Catholic faith and became Catholic. In 1881, Lucy attended Medical School in Boston, graduating in 1885.

In 1890, Lucy Pike became Sr. Raphael of the Sacred Heart, entering the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in MA.

Note:  Lucy was engaged to marry a young man from Detroit which in those days was commitment with legal bonds, so her turning towards Catholicism and religious profession was a process that required adjustments to her plans in life.  Interesting?!

Sr. Raphael came to Trinity College to teach; she taught Greek and other languages, organized the infirmary during a pandemic, and established relationships with other religious in DC, the Redemptorists, the Medical Mission Sisters, and she had an impact on her students and so many others.  Her notebooks remain in the archives, as are details of the building of Notre Dame Chapel.
Sr Raphael served as President of Trinity College from 1921-1930, fortifying the early days by establishing an Alumni Association, landscaping the campus, building the chapel, launching the Trinity Times and overseeing essential student-focused experiences as the semesters rolled by.

This brief reminder of our early beginnings at Trinity reveal that we have a lasting relationship with Catholic University of America, if not in legal or official terms, yet in our founding stories.  Yet, we are so different!  When asked why she applied here and not to CUA, one student replied, “I am a strong woman and I came to Trinity to be surrounded by strong women!”  CUA’s motto states, “Faithfully Catholic”, while ours states, “Education for Justice”.  Let’s say that together:  Education for Justice!

Today, Trinityeducate s a majority 55 % DC -based, African American undergraduate population, 25 % Hispanic, all women from various parts of the US with some born internationally, many of whom are DACA-Dreamers and undocumented.  Now is a most exciting time to matriculate at Trinity, as all our students have opportunities to research and present learnings, achieve leadership qualities, practice public speaking, athletics, artistic expressions and grow in emotional and spiritual maturity while accomplishing their academic goals.  The founders of Trinity would be so proud to know that the mission -for education of young women and the vision for higher learning and leadership, love of God and neighbor, confidence and knowledge- is strong, here at Trinity Washington University!

I am referencing three sources for this presentation:  Sr. Mary Hayes’s article on the Founding of Trinity College and the Design of a Program for the Higher Education of Women, which she presented in 1982 before the American Catholic Historical Association. Three Against the Wind, by Sr. Angela Elizabeth Keenan, Christian Classics, 1973, and Trinity College, The First 80 Years, 1897- 1977, -the purple book, by Sr. Columba Mullally, in Christian Classics 1987.

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Freedom for the Thought That We Hate

April 21, 2024

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote the thought above in his dissent in a Supreme Court case in 1929.  United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644 (1929) was about a Hungarian woman who wanted to become a U.S. citizen but she refused to take the oath of allegiance because, as a self-declared pacifist, she would not take up arms to defend the United States.  She lost the case, but Holmes made his point.

I keep thinking of Holmes’ words as I watch and read about the fierce protests underway at Columbia University, the cancellation of the valedictorian’s speech at USC, and the growing unrest on many other campuses since the start of the Israeli-Hamas war and the horrific destruction of Gaza resulting in an appalling death toll.  The protests at Columbia have evoked incredibly hateful and dangerous rhetoric — the threats against Jewish students at Columbia are outrageous and demand forceful action.  At the same time, the repression of legitimate non-violent protest by pro-Palestinian students is shocking.  The cancellation of speeches because they might provoke protests seems completely contrary to the purpose of a university.

A university, is, or should be, a place of free and open expression, broad perspectives and often-loud debates.  Our job is to encourage our students and faculty to seek the truth, and the process is often messy, chaotic and loaded with controversy and challenge to conventional wisdom.  We have to hear the ideas before we know whether we agree or disagree with them; and disagreement is not license to ban speech at all, but rather, to add another point of view to the conversation.  To repress speech is to stifle ideas, to limit knowledge, to snuff out the very life of intellectual expansion and discovery.

We have to allow the expression of the “thought that we hate” in order to be true to the purpose of the university.  Allowing expression does NOT mean that we agree with the statement, but rather, that we uphold the value of freedom of thought and speech.  That’s what we do as universities — or what we are supposed to do.

Are some thoughts so hateful that we have to prevent their expression?  Yes.  Even Justice Holmes famously said, in another case, that “shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater” was not protected speech, Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).  To threaten physical violence against any person is not protected speech.  To advocate for the genocide of Jews or Palestinians or any people is not protected speech.  On a university campus, to disrupt operations to the point where students and faculty cannot attend class or go about their lives in safety and peace is potentially not protected expression.  But in all cases, the facts matter very much.

I have not been to Columbia, I do not know what it’s like to be on that campus right now, and I cannot possibly know what President Minouche Shafik and her administrative team knew about the pro-Palestinian students camped out on the lawn in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment that made the administration decide to call the New York City Police on Friday; hundreds of arrests ensued.  I have to believe they had information about dangers and threats not revealed publicly.

What I do know, however, from long experience as a college president, is that administrative actions that prevent speech quite often backfire, inflaming many onlookers who might otherwise have remained neutral.  The issue moves quickly from the question of whether someone is pro-Palestine or pro-Israel to the issue of the fundamental right of speech and expression.  Few actions bring campuses together more quickly than administrative repression of free speech.

I also know this:  members of Congress, starting with North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx who chairs the House Committee on Education, seem focused on humiliating American higher education, and Foxx and her allies have singled-out four of the most elite private universities in the nation for extreme bullying and manipulation.  Sure, the four institutions — Harvard, MIT, Penn and now Columbia — have the wealth and intellectual resources to carry on even though they have been badly wounded by their puzzling performances before the committee.  But the rest of us — thousands of other colleges and universities that are not so famous or wealthy or elite — must now bear the burden of the fallout from this stunning abuse of Congressional authority.  Foxx and her allies shamefully used antisemitism as a strawperson to berate and bully the elite institutions.  The presidents who testified seemed out-smarted (out-Foxxed?) by the interrogations and their answers were disappointing at best — too weak and compromising in the case of the first three (Harvard, MIT, Penn), and then, more recently, completely co-opted by the authoritarian impulse in the case of Columbia’s president who failed to stand up for her faculty and moved against her students soon after the hearing.

In a further shameful abuse of Congressional power to bully a private university, House Speaker Mike Johnson, Rep. Foxx and others went to Columbia’s campus on Wednesday and demanded the resignation of President Shafik.  As Professors William LeoGrande and Scott Bass point out in an excellent essay in Insidehighered.com, rightwing politicians are using anti-semitism as a “convenient excuse” to pursue their war on higher education, something that’s been going on for far longer than the Israeli-Gaza conflict.

They write, “The House hearings on antisemitism were designed from the outset to be a political show trial with higher education in the dock. In a private Zoom call, committee member Representative Jim Banks, Republican of Indiana, revealed the Republicans’ real agenda—to defund elite institutions of higher education that MAGA Republicans consider “woke” by cutting off their federal student loan funding and taxing their endowments.” 

And they continue in pointing out the real purpose of the attack on higher education:  “The assault on higher education is a key front in the Republican right’s campaign to undermine the institutional pillars of democracy. Attacks on the press, the judiciary, the civil service (aka the “deep state”) and elections have gotten more attention, but colleges and universities are no less essential to sustaining a democratic polity.”

What does this moment mean for all of us at Trinity?  A few key points:

First, freedom of speech, thought and belief is central to our teaching, our community and our ability to uphold the values of social justice that animate our lives at Trinity.  We must listen, respect, and welcome all points of view as much as possible.

Second, we cannot and will not tolerate hate, threats, bullying or intimidation.  Saying this does not undermine our commitment to free speech, but does stress our commitment to sustaining a community rooted in respect for each and every person here — respect for human dignity is the first tenet of social justice.  Anti-semitism is evil and intolerable.  So is hatred expressed toward Palestinians, or Muslims, or immigrants or other persons based on who they are or what they believe.

Third, we are at our best as a learning community if we are able to be in dialogue together about the issues, even those that are difficult, even those that seem divisive.  We are near the end of the Spring 2024 semester but as we look ahead to the Fall 2024 semester, I hope that we will find more ways to come together to discuss the profound issues at stake in Gaza, in the Israel-Hamas war, in the American political response, in the Ukraine war and in our own struggles in this country to achieve genuine racial justice.

Fourth, for the faculty:  your academic freedom at Trinity is paramount.  I urge you to use this freedom to address the critical issues of our times with the deep research, creative pedagogies and passionate commitment you always bring to teaching your students well.

Finally, for Trinity: we were founded 125 years ago by courageous women who were not afraid of the difficult conversations, who had their own moments of disruptive conversations and occasional chaos as they gave Trinity life and purpose.  We honor them each day as we move this great mission forward to be witnesses for peace and justice in a world that knows too little of those values.  Let’s always remember our purpose to be a community of hope and change for those who need us.  We cannot be that community in silence; we must speak up and out, and we must listen to each other as we try to discern the ways in which we can change the world.

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End the Gaza Horror. Now!

April 7, 2024

(view of Gaza ruins, photo credit)

Six months ago, on October 7, 2023, Hamas terrorists committed horrific attacks on Israeli people, resulting in about 1200 Israeli deaths.  Among other murderous acts, the attacks included bombs from drones and terrorists on motorcycles shooting Israelis at a music festival.  Hamas also took hostages, many of whom continue to be held in unknown places, possibly in deep underground tunnels.

Declaring its right to defend itself, Israel launched an immediate military offensive in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, home to several million Palestinians.  As an ally of Israel since the formation of that nation after World War II, the United States declared support for Israel, and many Americans (including me) also declared support for our ally that also is the spiritual home of the Jewish people who have suffered so much oppression and real devastation across the millennia.  Palestinians and their supporters were outraged by the U.S. support for Israel, and protests continue to this day on college campuses, in cities, at major events, even at the Oscars.

Now, six months later, the appalling toll of Israel’s war in Gaza has become a moral catastrophe.  Gaza is in ruins.  Hospitals destroyed, homes obliterated, cities reduced to rubble.  More than 30,000 Palestinians are dead, and the threat of famine and disease rises each day.  Last week, in what it said was a “mistake,” Israel killed 7 members of the World Central Kitchen humanitarian food relief effort. (Read Chef Jose Andres powerful essay on the tragedy.)

Modern warfare has the intelligence and tools to avoid such a “mistake” if the leaders care enough about protecting civilians to exercise prudence.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrates each day a stunning disregard for civilians and utter contempt for the idea of proportionality in pursuing his vengeful campaign in Gaza.

“Just war” is a moral concept found in many faith teachings and even in military rules.  What is going on in Gaza has gone well beyond any conceivable notion of a “just war.”  At the beginning Israel had a right to defend itself, but its leadership has allowed the war to become a global scandal of revenge and retribution against tens of thousands of innocent people.  It does not diminish our concern for the oppression and devastation the Jewish people have suffered across the millennia to say that Palestinians, too, have suffered oppression and horrific violence.  The ancient “eye for an eye” philosophy of vengeance has resulted in oceans of blood and sorrow with little permanent resolution in sight.

President Biden and the United States must do more to stop the bloodshed, including ending financial and weapons support for Israel.  Our leaders should stop thinking about political calculus in this election year and instead focus on the core moral concerns about a war that has gone out of control.  Pope Francis has called for an immediate cease fire and he is right.  We cannot possibly say we want Netanyahu to move toward peace when we send him more bombs.  Our actions must back up the rhetoric of seeking peace.

Statement of World Central Kitchen

Timeline of Key Moments in the Israel-Gaza War (Washington Post)

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