A Letter to my Sixth Year Self

Once intimidated by the prospect of a Trinity education, a student writes a letter to their younger self, addressing some of the stigma surrounding attending Trinity

Illustration: Sarah Larragy

Dear Sixth Year Me,

I know you’re terrified. With mock exams, sraithpictúirs and debs’ dresses, you have enough going on without the added pressure of trying to choose which university and which subject will become the centre of your universe for the next few years of your life. I know your heart is set on Trinity. Its beautiful buildings, city-centre location and wide range of courses is calling out to you. Everyone else, however, is not so sure. They see it as a university for “a certain kind of people”, with notions of arrogance and superiority. This stigma is still very much attached to Trinity, particularly by secondary schools outside of Dublin, and stops some of Ireland’s best and brightest choosing to come here.

You have been told to consider your other options. After all, the required CAO points are very high and all your friends are going elsewhere. Perhaps you would be better off following the crowd. Even your school guidance counsellor expressed concern, always encouraging you to look at other universities. The last thing you want to be branded with is a “Trinners for Winners” label and constant mockery  of your peers.

Unfortunately these concerns are echoed in schools across the country, particularly in rural and disadvantaged areas. It would be completely blinkered of us, as Trinity students, to ignore the undeniable snobbery that is attached to its name. How many times have we told someone we’re in Trinity, only for them to retort that it is an institution with notions of itself and for those with notions of themselves?

It has gotten to a point that many of us are reluctant to tell people which university we attend in certain social situations or among certain social groups for fear of the inevitable mockery. This elitist reputation has been constructed by the university’s history of exclusivity of religion and gender, despite the college becoming open to all religions in 1793 and to women in 1904. It has caused a common misapprehension that Trinity is a college solely for the middle and upper classes thus alienating a huge proportion of modern Irish society.

I can assure that you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Most of this stigma and snobbery is abandoned right outside Front Gate. As a first year, I have experienced nothing but a welcoming, accepting atmosphere within this college. It strikes me as a place where anyone can achieve great things, irrespective of background, social class, gender or nationality. Of course, we are all aware of the supposed prestige of the university, and this was undoubtedly a decisive point in many of decisions to come up here. For the most part, this was mainly an attempt to maximise employment prospects. In my few months here I have yet to hear anyone utter the phrase “Trinners for Winners” in anything other than a sarcastic manner, which admittedly, gives me a lot of hope.

Having said all this, there is clearly a problem in the understanding of Trinity College, Dublin, various schools and social groups across the country have. The number of students from affluent and urban areas coming up continues to greatly outnumber those from poorer and more rural areas. Some candidates in this year’s SU elections called for making both the union and the college more accessible to school pupils of all backgrounds and classes. There has also been much growth of the Trinity Access Programme (TAP) which promotes those from backgrounds that might otherwise act as a barrier to coming here. This growth must continue if we want to see more diverse and equal mix of students and to banish the myth that Trinity only welcomes the well-heeled among us.

My Sixth Year Self , you will make your choice, along with thousands of other pupils from schools just like yours. I can assure you that your final decision to come up to Trinity will be worth any snide remark or gasp you might receive on telling people where you study. You shall meet some of the most down-to-earth people, in a setting that is truly out of this world. Maybe even by the time you finish here that stigma and reputation for snobbery will have disappeared.

Yours Sincerely,

A first year Trinity student