Valerio Greganti, Trinity News Senior Editor
Over the last hundred and sixty-eight years, the grandiose walls of Trinity College have stood tall in the face of war, economic strife, and societal unrest. Yet, today Trinity College stands empty and motionless, and the portraits which line its walls, the witnesses of both the peace and turbulence of the times past, watch, in shock, a new history in the making.
Since March 2020, locks hang from every door of Trinity College as all facilities were forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has claimed more than 9000 lives in Canada and over 930 000 lives worldwide. The pandemic thrust Canada and the university community into an unprecedented time and led to the difficult decision for Trinity College to bid all students goodbye. In the short span of a couple of weeks, a bustling campus was reduced to empty halls.
Fast forward six months and the pandemic still shows no signs of slowing down. While all classes transitioned to an online medium, Trinity College was forced to drastically rethink the management of its residence facilities in order to comply with health and safety guidelines. As a result, the university has provided all students with hand sanitizers and face masks and decreased the resident student body by 60%. The students have also been spread out across both Trinity Proper and St. Hilda’s to allow for social distancing. In addition to students, other members of the college are facing new challenges due to the pandemic as well, such as the cleaning staff who have refused to clean student rooms due to a concern for their own safety.
Yet, no change in the college has been as emblematic of our times as the changes to Strachan Hall. The dining hall’s iconic long tables have been replaced with eleven rectangular tables and five round tables. There is now a roped-off path that leads to the serving area, which itself has remained the same as before. Instead of a plate, students now get pre-packed meals in a disposable container (eco-to-go), which the college organizes with a card exchange system. Coffee and tea are no longer self-served, and students must ask a staff member to make it for them. Additionally, sides and desserts cannot be purchased with a meal plan but must be purchased with “flex dollars” which are usually used for food in the Buttery. Furthermore, students now only get 30 minutes to consume their food before being made to leave the dining hall in order to allow another student to enter.
On the other hand, the pandemic is also leading to the creation of some new traditions. Tables have been placed in the Quad where students can eat together and also interact with each other while enjoying the all-too-familiar Oxbridge view. Students are also permitted to eat in their rooms, while many enjoy eating in circles on the grass of the Quad.
As much as traditions (trinditions!) like Strachan-sitting might be off-menu for the year, the mood is not as pessimistic as might be expected. “Students are obviously anxious concerning COVID and online school, but they are trying to find ways to foster community in a safe manner and have an extremely positive outlook” explains current Male Head of Arts Shashwat Aggarwal. He stressed how everyone is very respectful of the social distancing guidelines and is committed to making Trinity a safer place. The Trinity College administration has also been extremely thoughtful of the students, both in terms of living standards and social distancing laws.
While last year there were talks of radical changes in the college such as gender desegregation and the addition of new buildings, this year the focus lies in avoiding COVID-19 infections and preventing an outbreak in the college. One could say that Trinity has changed a lot since March, however, that does not mean that students are always negatively impacted. When asked about first-year transition and involvement, the Male Head of Arts asserted that the first year remains an important year regardless of anything else and that “students should make sure they live to the fullest and reach out for opportunities.” He also added that students should “stay safe and remember that there is nothing more precious than your life and the lives of the people around you. There is an immense amount of support available for you at the college. All you need to do is reach out.”
As Trinity College has stood tall through the tumultuousness of the last two hundred years, it will, along with its students, add the COVID-19 pandemic to the history of the challenges that it has overcome.