China and its Discontents

The White Paper at Trinity and the New Social-Academic Paradigm

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This post is in the way of an apology for not posting for many months. I submitted an op-ed to the Trinity Tripod a month and a half ago, but never posted it here (and it’s not on the Tripod website either), so here it is!

Have most Trinity students read President Jones’ White Paper? No. But if they have heard anything at all, they know he ‘wants to get rid of the fraternities’. What we cannot forget is that President Jones proposed two ‘helixes’, one academic and the other social, “neither of which can be separated from the other.” In other words, it is useful to think of the big picture – the Jeffersonian, holistic, “intellectual village,” as idealized in the paper.

As I was reading the White Paper, several ideas came to me that have been on my mind since I arrived at Trinity in 2008, some of which President Jones touched upon. The first is the notion of belonging. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it rates as the third most basic, behind physiological needs and safety. The kids at Trinity who don’t feel like they belong here or to any particular community on campus transfer. And President Jones mentions this need. This lack of belonging cannot be answered by only an academic or a social solution – it must be a combination of both. We belong to both groups on campus, and to a larger campus community. These senses of belonging are inculcated by a strong academic ethos marked by intellectual curiosity, where students are inextricably tied to professors in and outside of the classroom, and when we feel we are welcome across campus anywhere we go, as President Jones says, on a meritocratic basis.

A couple of months ago I was having a conversation with my father on pedagogy and the recent acts of bigotry and prejudice at Trinity. Out of that conversation, I came to realize that these acts occur because there is a disconnect in values between some students and the larger campus community. The value system exemplified by our mission statement has not been fully institutionalized – our values are not cohesive, our community is dysfunctional. We lack communal norms. This too can be solved by both an academic and social solution. When students come to Trinity “for the right reasons,” when students and faculty are on the same page, we establish communal norms. When we all share certain communal academic and social experiences, such as the first-year “great books” seminar program proposed by President Jones, norms are established. The best academic model is that of the Socratic method, of proleptic questioning: the faculty ask leading questions that provoke knowledge that a student has but has not yet put together in a coherent fashion. Students come to class having done the reading and are excited to engage in difficult material. This is what we must inculcate at Trinity.

Let’s not get lost in the particulars and remember that there is a greater purpose to the intertwined helixes. Let’s move forward, start a conversation, and ask the hard questions. Let’s be present and active in our little “academic village.”

Written by Will

January 3rd, 2012 at 12:53 pm