Dear Members of the Trinity Community:
I want to extend a very warm welcome and welcome back to all members of our community as we start the most unusual of fall terms.
To our incoming Arts & Science and Divinity students – it was terrific that so many of you were able to join us for our first-ever virtual Matriculation last week which we broadcasted live from the Provost’s Lodge. Special thanks to our Chancellor Bill Graham and Brian and Joannah Lawson – who will now receive their honorary degrees at next year’s Matriculation – for joining us online to share a few words of wisdom with our new students. Alfie, my 16-year-old dachshund, made a guest appearance and he was trending on the chat! Alfie and I, like all our staff and faculty, can’t wait until we can welcome everyone back to the college – it’s just simply not the same without our entire community on campus.
In speaking with our students, staff and faculty, it is clear that everyone is thrilled to be back to school, excited to begin learning and to connect with friends old and new. At the same time of course, we are also wondering what the year ahead might hold. The way we learn, teach, work and live on campus is certainly different this term—our halls are quieter, Strachan and Seeley have both been reconfigured to enable physical distancing and we are all wearing masks as we walk around campus and through our buildings. But the most important things haven’t changed—our sense of community, our excitement about the pursuit of knowledge, and our steadfast commitment to providing an outstanding student experience, just as we have every year since 1851.
Of course, doing this in the midst of these very unusual circumstances is really uncharted terrain and as you will know from my earlier messages, we have been working hard all summer to prepare for the upcoming year. We have been planning in tandem with the University of Toronto and the federated universities and continue to follow the best available public health advice. Our first and most critical priority is safeguarding the health and well-being of our whole community. Please click here to read my end of summer message that outlines the College’s plans for health and safety measures, student services and academic programs, residence and food services.
With the arrival of September, all of the work that we undertook over the summer began to come to fruition. So rather than ‘Move In Day’, we had ‘Move In Week’, as around two hundred students with pre-arranged appointments moved in over several days. We had to limit the number of helpers that students could bring and everyone completed a pre-assessment. Thanks to the efforts of our amazing staff, dons, community advisors, upper year student volunteers and incoming residence students, our move in went very smoothly. We are all thrilled to hear student voices on campus again.
To ensure that we can physically distance, our residence population is far smaller than the 470 students we usually welcome—we currently have around 200 students. They are spread out between Trinity and St Hilda’s and this year we have a slightly higher proportion of first year students than usual. There are also big changes in how we serve our food, including a new “to go” option offered by the introduction of reusable EcoToGo Containers. We worked all summer to ensure safe dining while still offering the healthy, delicious, sustainable food that we are committed to. Strachan Hall certainly looks different now, with seating for far fewer students and no High Table. But we can still see students sitting in groups of two or three enjoying food and conversation in true Trinity fashion! To facilitate safe dining and social interaction, we have also extended our seating out into the Quad and other outdoor spaces so that students can enjoy each other’s company safely for as long as the weather permits. After a silent summer, it is wonderful to see and hear students enjoying our beautiful Quad once again.
Orientation was also different this year because it was largely online. But we didn’t let that stop us–our students and staff found imaginative ways to have fun and to encourage interaction. It was terrific to see the hundreds of students that joined events like the virtual Clubs Fair and Trin 101. We also hosted some small in-person events for residence students, like a physically distanced trivia night in Seeley Hall. And after our virtual Matriculation (which over two hundred students joined on line), Alfie and I took students on a little tour of the Provost’s Lodge and then hosted a Q&A with our students. As I said then, I look forward to when we can welcome everyone back into the Lodge but until then, we enjoyed sharing some virtual time together there talking about school and art and the plans for Trinity for the year ahead.
Other things are underway as well. Importantly, classes began for most students last Thursday. Most classes across the University of Toronto including at Trinity are online. However, approximately 15% of Trinity classes do have an in-person option. This means that they will be delivered in a hybrid or dual delivery form, meaning that professors gather with some students in physically distanced classrooms while other students join online. I am so grateful to all of our faculty and our staff who supported them as we all worked together to figure out how to deliver the best possible student experience in such challenging circumstances. It was quite a learning experience to do run-throughs of our dual delivery classes to try to work out the bugs and figure out what works and what doesn’t. We are all learning together. This afternoon I was delighted to see a class sitting out on the lawn in front of the Lodge engaged in a lively discussion. Also this week, after conducting Orientation online, students in the Faculty of Divinity gathered for their first in-person worship service. Like the Arts and Science programs, Divinity has had to adapt many of its usual routines, including field education practicums and social gatherings, but so far the community has embraced these challenges with enthusiasm.
The whole team at Trinity – faculty, staff, academic support services, library services, academic dons, community advisors, peer advisors and mentors, and many others – is working hard to ensure the best possible student experience in our unusual circumstances. Although many of our services and supports will continue to be available online, our Student Services staff will also determine when in-person advising might be appropriate and necessary, and provide that support in the Student Services Centre. Please click here to view the student services and supports available to you and how to best connect with them at this point. Our wonderful team is here to support you and to ensure your success – please reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns.
Though more of us are now on campus, our buildings do remain closed to everyone except those who require access. We hope to be able to gradually increase on-campus activity as the term goes on but of course everything depends on the public health conditions. In order to ensure the safety of those on campus, masks are mandatory in common-use spaces and anyone who comes to campus is asked to do a self-assessment through UCheck, a new University of Toronto self-assessment tool.
We are also very excited about the virtual events we are planning for this fall. First up is a virtual lecture, “Six Hoskin Avenue, an architectural history,” given by Sylvia Lassam, Rolph-Bell Archivist, on Zoom, on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. Our first ever virtual Conversation with the Chancellor is scheduled for Tuesday, October 27, and will feature Chile Eboe-Osuji, President of the International Criminal Court. The Larkin-Stuart Lecture is coming up on Thursday, November 12, featuring the Most Rev’d Michael Curry, the first African-American to serve as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (and who delivered the sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle). Undaunted by Covid-19 restrictions, the Trinity College Dramatic Society will be presenting a radio adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula just in time for Hallowe’en. Here is the TCDS season welcome video so you can see the entire slate of wonderful productions this year, virtual and (hopefully) in person. Watch out for more details about these and other events. Trinity boards and committees are also in full swing online now, making plans for the new year and working hard to support the college as they always do. Ironically, the virtual format has actually made it easier for some members of our community to attend meetings—as you know, I am always looking for the silver lining!
Of course, it is not all silver linings. As I shared in an earlier update, we were so regretful that our beloved Friends of the Library Book Sale has had to be cancelled for this year due to public health restrictions. I will be attending the Friends meeting at the end of September and look forward to connecting with them again. The halls will be all too quiet in October without the buzz of their wonderful activity. The halls are quiet for another reason too—our choral activities have also largely been put on hold because of the increased risk of transmission of COVID-19 associated with singing in enclosed spaces. Similarly, for the time being, our Chapel is closed for many of our normal activities, but we do look forward to when we can safely resume our Chapel and choral traditions, although Divinity students are able to continue their curricular training in the chapel in a modified form. We do look forward to when we can safely resume our usual Chapel and choral traditions.
One thing that we have learned over the past several months is how quickly things can change. In light of this, we have done extensive contingency planning to ensure that we are as prepared as possible for all eventualities and we will do our very best to keep you informed. We would also invite you to visit our website for the latest information about fall 2020.
While our collective work on preparedness planning has consumed almost every staff and faculty member’s time at the College, we have also been busy on other important projects for the college.
I’m happy to report that despite a few shifts in project planning, work has continued on our new building – the Lawson Centre for Sustainability – as well as on the Living Trinity campaign. This fall, we will complete design development with our architectural and construction management firms. Early site work will also continue this fall, so you may see some activity on the back field and parking lot as our consultants continue to test and prepare our site. Our project received enthusiastic reviews as we proceeded through the U of T governance processes which culminated with unanimous approval at Governing Council at the end of June. We have also been working with the City to secure the necessary approvals which we expect over the coming months. The construction schedule will be finalized over the next few months and we will update you about when to expect ground-breaking—an exciting moment for all of us!
As a “living lab” designed to transform the student experience, the Lawson Centre is at the heart of our broader Integrated Sustainability Initiative and we are incredibly grateful to Brian and Joannah Lawson and the Faculty of Arts and Science for their generous support. The Initiative is a creative undertaking designed to take our longstanding sustainability efforts to a whole new level through integrating sustainability education and practices into the student experience. Alongside co-curricular opportunities like internships, research projects and outreach activities, upper-year students in Trinity’s academic programs will now study sustainability through newly designed interdisciplinary courses in the International Relations program and the Ethics Society & Law program. The Initiative complements and builds on our other sustainability activities including the Butterfield Environment & Sustainability stream of the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program which has just welcomed its third cohort of students. Look out for the announcement of the inaugural leadership of the Sustainability Initiative and an update on an array of activities that will transform how we think about these issues by engaging students directly in sustainability through everything from climate change to food production.
In terms of the business of the college, we continue to manage Trinity’s work and affairs in this challenging time. As you might imagine, our financial situation this year is dramatically different than it was this time last year when we operated with a small surplus. Revenue from our residence and summer operations normally supports almost everything we do here at the college and we are in the process of working through the implications of the pandemic for our operating budget. We are fortunate to have excellent staff and volunteers who are all committed to steering a wise course for the college in this unprecedented situation and we will keep you informed as the year unfolds. We also recently concluded an arrangement with the University of Toronto regarding the parking lot immediately adjacent to and south of the new Goldring Centre. That land belongs to the University of Toronto but was assigned to Trinity’s use when we federated with the University of Toronto. The University which required land for its undergraduate commerce program (many Trinity students are in that program) sought return of the use of the land in exchange for compensation to Trinity. Following professional evaluations and negotiation, the Board of Trustees approved the transfer to the University in exchange for a combined lump sum payment and long-term series of annual instalment payments. The agreement closed in early July and if you are coming on to campus you will see that the site is no longer operating as a Trinity parking lot.
This summer we have also been working to address the serious issues of anti-Black racism and inclusion that have been raised by our students, alumni, staff and faculty and others. Racism and discrimination cannot be tolerated and every one of us has an obligation to ensure that Trinity is a welcoming place for all. As you will know from my earlier messages we have already taken a number of concrete steps including the creation of a special BIPOC bursary and plans for a dedicated mentoring program, alongside numerous other activities across the college. I want to express my gratitude to everyone in the community—faculty, staff, students and alumni—who have enthusiastically supported these and other efforts. In addition, we will soon announce the creation of a Task Force on Anti-Black Racism and Inclusion which will make recommendations for broader institutional change to ensure that Trinity is welcoming for all. Inclusion is absolutely critical to our aspirations and I look forward to the important work we will undertake together over the coming year.
In closing, I want to wish you all well in what I know is bound to be a challenging fall. September is simply not the same without so many of you back here on campus. At the same time, it is wonderful and heartening for all of us to have our campus come back to life, even if in a more limited fashion. We all hope that we will be able to have more activity and in-person gatherings as the school year progresses. I want to thank all of you for the warm messages and good wishes you send our way—we miss you, we wish you well, and we look forward to welcoming you back.
Until then, please stay safe and well.
Provost and Vice-Chancellor