College was a brutal training ground, and I’d do it all again

I have achieved what I set out to achieve in College but it has not been without it’s personal cost

College is a training ground for young people, but in Trinity’s culture that training ground can come at personal cost. In Trinity, I have been in various positions in societies and Trinity News. I have achieved my first year dream of being editor of this paper and I have made the most wonderful friends from the last five years. I have also been consistently scrutinised, slut-shamed and insulted by some of the most powerful people on campus with zero regard for myself, my feelings or the people around me.

I do not write this piece seeking sympathy, though I am sure there are many other people in this college who can relate to what I say. In fact, in writing this piece, I hope to finally reflect on my time in Trinity, both the good and the bad. A good friend of mine changed the trajectory of my college experience in second year. It was the middle of lockdown and I had spent the year finally getting involved in college life including in this paper. I reached a point where I didn’t know if I wanted to continue in college roles or go back to who I was in first year, focusing completely on my degree and removing myself from the other aspects of college life like societies and student media. He made the point that college is a training ground for the real world. He warned me about how brutal that training ground could be, but nevertheless encouraged me to continue down this path. I don’t regret any of the positions I’ve held in college. They have given me the life, friends and job I now have. That being said, I never could have predicted just how brutal of a training ground this side of campus could be. 

When you take on a public role in Trinity, be that as a journalist, student politician or society head, there is an entire section of campus who not only know who you are but feel entitled to every piece of information that goes around about you on this relatively small campus. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve had someone I don’t know repeat nasty gossip about myself back to me. People have come up to me to discuss things I had apparently done the weekend before, the month before or even the year before. The fact that so many of this campus feel entitled to this kind of information about their peers, and so entitled as to attempt to embarrass them in a public setting, is one of the nastiest aspects of Trinity culture. My friend was right, this does prepare you for a public facing job later in life – however that does not minimise the impact it can have on the person. In colleges like Trinity, we all live in a bubble. It is a microcosm of the real world and the campus itself feels like an island in the middle of Dublin. To even attend this college is a huge privilege and one that is not lost on me. However, the negative experiences I have had in Trinity are very much reflected in the “real” world. Particularly as a woman, my college experience was the first time I had experienced public slut shaming. It was the first time I felt scrutinised in this way and it has taught me a lot about how women in these positions are treated in their communities. This is not just applicable to Trinity, this happens to women on every level of public life. This is not something that any woman should “train” for, but I was trained nonetheless.

Life in the training ground has also taught me that College should be a time to make mistakes. In speaking to younger students, particularly those on the Trinity News staff, I have always emphasised that this is their time to make mistakes as budding journalists. We are fostering a new generation of talent and I have been so consistently amazed by the people in this paper. However it is a very strange position to be in. To be the one asked for advice, for guidance. It’s one I feel incredibly privileged to have but one that came with far more caveats than I ever anticipated. The people in these positions, including myself, are either the same age or slightly older than the students they help and mentor. It is often the most fulfilling part of the job but it is also the most emotionally challenging. I don’t feel like I hold any of the secrets of the universe or that I am particularly good at offering advice on students’ biggest decisions but that is the role I ended up in. The fact that my staff have felt comfortable coming to me with these issues this year is one of the things I am most proud of. Any student who ends up in one of these positions knows that mentoring is a crucial part of the job. I am still learning and as much as I’ve loved helping other students explore their passions and reach their potential, it is very strange when I don’t feel that I have fully reached mine. 

I hope my legacy in Trinity News is one of removing some of these barriers for students and making it all a little bit less scary”

I have been in Trinity for a long time. I am one of the last people on this campus that remember what Trinity was like before the pandemic. Five years is a long time to spend in any place, but in college, five years may as well be 20. Trinity is a very different place than it was five years ago; when I came into the college I was surrounded by people whose parents and grandparents went to Trinity. They all seemed to know the ropes before they even walked through the door. They knew what big societies to join and where the student spaces were. In a way COVID levelled this playing field. During the pandemic, far more people got involved in the things they actually wanted to do in college. In a year when you had to make so much more effort to stay connected, the existing connections people had to Trinity became much less important. I don’t think I ever would have started writing for this paper if the pandemic didn’t happen because I found reaching out and getting involved to be so intimidating. It’s a lot easier to put yourself out there over email than in an office in a building you don’t know the layout of. I hope my legacy in Trinity News is one of removing some of these barriers for students and making it all a little bit less scary. 

Though I have found some aspects of the culture of this college to be nasty at best and straight up harmful at worst, my experience of this College is something I will never forget. Trinity has many issues, some are college specific and many more are a reflection of general struggles of modern Irish society. It is filled with wonderful people for the most part but it is let down by a culture of scrutiny. I am grateful for my time here and the friends I’ve made. I am proud of everything I and Trinity News have achieved this year. My friend was right; the roles I’ve had have trained me for the real world, both the good and the bad. For every nasty comment that has been made about myself and my friends, there has been as much support from those around me and other members of the college community. To the members of the college that have tried to bring me down over the years with their nasty tactics: I am a stronger person today as a result of your feeble attempts to stop me in my tracks. 

I can’t wait to see what the people and the paper do next. I will be watching proudly from the sidelines cheering them on as they surpass everything I’ve done and more. In my time spent here, I hope I have impacted some of you in a positive way, be it within the paper or outside. I hope I have provided some of you with the mentorship I was so grateful to receive from others before me. Right now it’s all feeling a bit like that Derry Girls monologue for me: “There is a part of me that wishes everything could just stay the same.. but things can’t stay the same, and they shouldn’t.” I hope the next generation of students get as much out of Trinity as I have. To my staff, you are all more talented than you will ever know, I can’t wait for the day when you’re all taking over the world and I can proudly say I knew you. Goodbye Trinity and goodbye Trinity News.

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current Editor-in-Chief of Trinity News, and a graduate of Sociology and Social Policy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.