To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.John McCrae
Institutional Memory is a organizations’ traditions, informal and formal, and its collective spirit, shaped by the common and shared experiences of its members. Trin is notorious for its many and occasionally eccentric traditions, traditions that are not facing risk because of COVID. Traditions both formal, and informal are nevertheless only uncertainly maintained by a university body, changing as it does every four years, and are maintained not by inertia but only by the intentional continuation and transmission of their own fond experiences and memories. Those incoming first years will have must therefore have some positive connection to trinity traditions of their own. Yet in the age of Covid, these are impossible or highly limited, especially for non-resident students. The question thus becomes how a college community as deeply rooted in tradition as Trinity College can maintain its spirit in a year that is defined through its impossiblities and changes. In the Covid-torn world, so many of Trinity college’s signature traditional events are not occurring this year – Conversat, Saints, and High Table.
In a world where student investment in a college community is declining already (made clear by the mediocre turnout at many events), how will the absence of fond memories throughout a year (still worse, maybe two) of students affect investment in their college spirit? Will such students see a need to allow the next generation of Trin students to experience the old traditions of Trinity College, or even by able to?
Despite the valiant efforts of my fellow Staff member Bishop Malcolm Standing [link: https://trintimes.ca/trinity/bishop-interrupted/] as Bishop to preserve school spirit, the online format brings limitations, in his words, “The hard truth is that staring at your computer screen is not the same as being the quad singing “Hey Baby” or being in the JCR on a Wednesday night”. First years are not being exposed to the traditional spirit of Trinity College – and the ubiquitous Trinity traditions will suffer for it. How can a student whose orientation was online, their cheers sung at a computer be expected to maintain our increasingly fragile traditions? Non-resident students now have minimal interaction with upper years, with online events lacking the appeal of in-person happenings, through the loss of such things as free food, (real) company, and the ability to talk to just one or two people at a time (a must for many introverts). For the most part, the attitude I have heard from many upper-years is largely “wait out the year, hope it will be better next year, and try to imitate the in-person events as best you can”. Will students want to come next year, if they have already formed their groups and routines and made their friend groups with no place for such? In the absence of experiencing High Table dinners, can students learn to appreciate what many would see as a circus of dining in formal gowns? If there are no formals this year, no fond memories, who will through future Conversats? While a single generation may seem like a tiny absence, the memory gap stretches throughout the student body – those who didn’t go to those things last year but would this year, those who perhaps have just one-year memories not more, and so forth. How can Trinity College’s unique spirit thrive without eager students to carry it on? Naturally, this performance gap extends to levies as well, with most existing in a wraithlike form. The TCLI (Trinity College Literary Institute) — a satirical debating society — is one student society that has adapted well. They are holding their debates with great aplomb online, and publishing extended miniature sketch movies (about 3-10 minutes) online, flexing their creative muscles in a different format, We can see from these efforts to maintain the society’s relevance in the COVID world, and maintain their society’s existence and traditions that some traditional events are not fading into oblivion – indeed, the mini-videos have racked up about a hundred views each (according to Vimeo’s built-in view counter), suggesting that new COVID-motivated trends are prospering, although only the future will tell if they may become traditions in their own right. However, even the TCLI has not been unscathed – with a reduction of debates, their signature weekly meetings to a bi-weekly format, and a marked absence of non-debate “bonding” style events, events which doubtless help to establish the traditional camaraderie for its members and aid transmission of memory between generations. This aptly demonstrates the challenges the Trinity college community will face – with some, covid-adaptable traditions surviving, while others become endangered, especially as pre-COVID students graduate away, leaving the torch with others – those who never were experienced the normal Trinity College in their first years.
These questions have no easy answers, but it seems inevitable that Trinity College’s traditional spirit will be changed forever, by the pandemic, and we can only pray that there will be a return to normal operations during the next year – not another year of non-school. Perhaps not all change is bad, however – even in a community defined by its traditions — However, it is up to us to carry the Torch from those who pass it on this year, to carry on what we can, and preserve those traditions for the future students of Trinity College.