The Trinity spirit: Has time changed what makes Trinity students tick?

Jimena Alvarez ventures into Trinity News archives to unravel whether the essence of being a Trinity student has changed over time

The concept of student life transcends time. Conversations that are all too familiar to us include the next Student Union protest, the next Phil or Hist debate, as well as what to get from the Buttery. Who else were they discussed by? Trinity students of the past! 

Looking through the archives I found articles discussing the Junior Dean being replaced by the president of the Student Representative Council, compact utilitarian concrete and glass buildings around campus (Business building foreshadowing), and a free computer service to find one’s sexually compatible partner: “What more could a young lad like me want?” (Trinity News, May 7 1970). I had thought attempting to decipher present-day students was hard. Although, it turns out trying to guess the thoughts of students 53 years ago was even tougher.

Pondering about past alumni like Bram Stoker or Oscar Wilde, their college experiences seem like a world away from mine. Even the illustrious Mary Robinson, who graduated as a scholar in 1967, couldn’t have had the same ideas, worries, and experiences as us students today. Or could she?

Trinity has always been Trinity at heart, and maybe it always will be”

Diving into the Trinity News archives has been eye-opening. The archives have become a time machine that unveils what life looked like for the average Trinner (or the average Trinner who had enough time to write for the paper). A major takeaway from the reading of old Trinity News papers revealed that Trinity has always been Trinity at heart, and maybe it always will be. While this might make us feel closer to our predecessors and warm our hearts, there’s no denying that student life has changed quite a bit over time. Truth be told, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s been a long time since the 1970s Trinity News article on Linda Best becoming the first woman to be elected to the Historical Society Committee to Áine Kennedy becoming the auditor of the 254th Session of the same society. It’s been even longer since a 1955 official statement, was published by the president of the Philosophical Society, banning women from joining as members entirely. A circumstance that, if had occurred now, would anger and disturb any modern student with at least half a brain. Rightfully so.

Although the college has made steps in the right direction, Trinity is far from becoming a fully inclusive and equal community. Just last March, the homophobic and misogynistic public speaker Mohammed Hijab was invited to talk at the university, and the event had to be cancelled due to backlash. It is glimpses of the past that allow us to see how things were like, how far we’ve come from that and how much more there is to do.

We are still in the same institution that has been present since 1592, we are bound to share interests, but also troubles with those who once studied here. A comment in Trinity News on November 30 1961, went on about fearing UCD’s rugby team. Sports commentators noted how Trinity was in an undoubted disadvantage, however powerful enough to win. There’s nothing like our hopeful outlook when it comes to the historical rivalry between both universities. It is an echo from the past that I can’t imagine ever fading away.

There is no way, however, that this is all that students cared about in the past. Claiming so far that Trinity News focused only women and sports feels reductive. Believe it or not, one of the big topics on Trinity News old archived volumes was mental health. An article written in 1964 dove into this topic bravely through the lens of students on campus. It formed part of a larger discussion about the challenges and mental health struggles of students on campus. Nothing feels more inspiring that knowing even then, conversation was starting to happen through, at the very least, this newspaper. The content, however, has most certainly evolved.

The shift from believing mental illness was unimportant or negligible for highly intelligent students, as mentioned in the article, to openly discussing Trinity’s disability and mental health services, as recent writers have done, reflects significant progress.

This is not the only instance in which students thought in a way current students unlikely would. On December 2 1965, undergraduates gathered in resistance to a new rule to bring their own trays to a clearing table. One was even quoted saying “it’s a diabolical liberty, next we’ll be washing up as well” with blissful unawareness of their privilege. But that wouldn’t happen now, right? Students remain timeless and ever-changing simultaneously, especially focusing on the latter.

A timeless prevalent Trinity essence is very much present and triggers a sense of comfort for me as a current student. It works as a timeless resonance that should not be taken as a set but a consistent reminder that students will be students. For almost every thought that angered a student in the past, there was a writer ready to talk about it. That is something that will forever, I hope, remain.

Nonetheless, despite this comfort, I am glad things for the most part have changed. And it is hard not to contemplate just how much student life has indeed changed over the years. It is undeniable, it is evolution and growth.

I can’t go on about how special it is for past student narrations to feel relatable without saying this too: not everything made it to the paper”

I am a Peruvian bisexual female student on campus. I can’t go on about how special it is for past student narrations to feel relatable without saying this too: not everything made it to the paper. It is essential to acknowledge the voices of students that weren’t allowed to express just how different their college life was. The diverse student population, their counterarguments and disapproval, if recorded, would’ve given us a better insight on what was on every Trinity student’s mind.

Trinity wouldn’t be what it is today without students disagreeing with what was almost “written in stone” in past volumes of the paper.