As Trinity College students were packing to return to school in late August, president James F. Jones Jr. was sending an email to the Trinity community outlining several steps the school was taking to improve campus security.
The highlight was the hiring of former New Haven police chief and Yale University security director Francisco Ortiz, by all accounts an excellent choice to head campus security. Other measures include a study of campus security, more training for campus police officers, more bicycle officers and the hiring of a private security firm to augment the campus police force.
Mr. Jones also mentions the incident that helped precipitate the push for more security, a March 4 assault on a Trinity student on a street at the edge of the campus. Mr. Jones said he and other school leaders met with Hartford police and "reiterated to them that it is critically important that we bring the perpetrators to justice." He said the police have the college's "fullest support."
This doesn't quite cover the entirety of the situation, one that will haunt Mr. Jones' administration until it is resolved.
In the late-night incident, a car pulled up next to Trinity students Chris Kenny and Tim Suspenski. According to a witness, five people got out and severely beat Mr. Kenny. He sustained a broken jaw, rib and cheekbone, and was hospitalized for two days. Mr. Suspenski was not assaulted.
A day after the attack, as parents of Trinity students decried the level of violence in the city, Dean of Students Frederick Alford sent out an email saying school officials "have been able to get enough information from the victim and his friend to know that the assailants were not Trinity students," adding that officials believed the motive was robbery.
He is wrong on one count and possibly the other. Nothing was taken from Mr. Kenny, police sources said. And, as The Courant has reported, the witness told campus security that the assailants — two males and three females — were white, "preppy-looking" and "of college age." In the days after the incident, some students came forward to tell campus security that Mr. Kenny was targeted by other Trinity students because of an incident earlier in the day.
An internal report obtained by The Courant also suggests that the assailant's car never left campus.
What About The Neighborhood?
So, while no arrests have been made in the case, it is more than possible that the assailants were Trinity students. If that turns out to be the case, it changes the discussion.
Mr. Jones, like most urban college presidents, has to find the right balance between neighborhood engagement and campus safety, no easy task. He was not wrong to increase security: There were other incidents, a couple of them brazen and serious, on and around the campus last year that clearly were not the work of Trinity students.
Importantly, Mr. Jones has increased security without turning the college into a walled fortress. Colleges are too important to cities to be gated communities.
If the assailants in this case turn out to be Trinity students, how should Mr. Jones respond?
"I'm sorry" would be a good start, but only a start. He should use the opening to strengthen an already substantial relationship with the Barry Square neighborhood and the city at large. Though not everyone is aware of this, the school has dozens of local cultural, educational and recreation initiatives in place — Boys & Girls Club, lacrosse program, Saturday volunteer program, CineStudio, etc. There's a new program to help Trinity employees buy homes in Hartford. Some neighbors applaud the added security.
If more city residents know about these programs, take advantage of them and view the college as the resource it is rather than the island of privilege it may appear to be, it's a win all around.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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