Through the years, Trent has become unrecognizable to those who would have lived with their professors in the late 60s. These changes are best measured through the shifts in the nature of the collegiate system. Thus, an investigation of The College Review process becomes a necessary interrogation in Trent’s ever shifting identity.
Trent is and has been undertaking a college review. This process has been a rather drawn-out affair and a source of frustration for some but a point of interest for others. The College Review process has pivoted the system away from its original nature, towards a more technocratic, student-led reality, where the colleges are a site of their own identity, rather than primarily places where Trent’s plays out.
As Tyler Majer mentions, like all collegiate universities, Trent’s system was based on the Oxford and Cambridge university systems. These universities saw that the colleges should be centres of academic learning, where students would apply directly to the colleges rather than the university. Trent viewed the colleges similarly.
Principals were faculty members running the colleges part-time and living on campus. Meals were only served at certain times and gowns were required attire at dinner time. This meant that students and their professors were compelled to congregate together at regular times throughout the day, nurturing their academic community. This was all with the goal of fostering academic intimacy and cultivating a shared sense. Everyone was a part of the identity.
One story told is that in the days when gowns were required, Champlain college members (which at the time was all male), protested this by going down to dinner in only their gowns.
If you’ve had your eyes open in any of the college dining spaces, you’ll notice the distinct lack of gowns and compelled socializing. This reflects a shift in the nature of colleges from the early days, something that has evolved rapidly in the past few years and subject to much debate in Arthur’s pages.
In 2012, the Colleges Planning Committee (CPC) was established, mandated with examining the college system: “to examine Trent’s colleges; structures and activities in order to make them more sustainable and relevant.” The CPC found that basically everyone was disengaged with the colleges and concluded that the role of colleges in students’ lives should be strengthened.
Among its recommendations, the CPC said that colleges should work to cultivate their own identities, support student leadership such as the cabinets, improve peer support and rally colleges around residential living learning communities to connect students “to their academics and to their colleges.” This marks a distinct pivot to a devolution of identity-building from Trent to the colleges, in which students are at the forefront. A further change saw College Head positions become full-time positions who would no longer be academics.
The restructuring does reflect a change to the nature of colleges, no longer seeming to function as intimate academic spaces under the Trent banner. Rather, colleges have been empowered to be their own sites of identity, not just sites of the Trent identity.
Colleges have been encouraged to foster their own individual spirits. Just as the Oxbridge system allows students to apply directly to the colleges, students can choose their Trent colleges based on, for instance, the Residence Life Community that appeals to them. Students can choose their college, not merely belong to it having lived their in first year or due to random assignment.
With 49 student jobs created and increased emphasis on student leadership, the restructuring has thrust students to the centre.
Trent prides itself on being a tightly knit community. With an ever increasing student population and the arguably balkanizing nature of handheld technology, the university will have to get creative to maintain its projected image of itself onto the world. The College Review is an attempt to negotiate a 13th-century institution with 21st-century forces. The changes are not necessarily bad or good, but it must be recognized that they produce a different kind of college system to the one on which Trent is premised.