Dear Editor: Trinity College’s unchristian, discriminatory policy proves 1970 “revolution” still unfinished

EPL Infrafred Sauna

“[…] I have stated before that the ‘Revolution’ that took place in 1970, in T&T, is an unfinished revolution. If we do not continue to educate and sensitise our younger generation on their self-worth then, unfortunately, history is inclined to repeat itself.

“[…] How in Heaven’s name could a senior cleric of the Anglican Church, who is so gifted and educated up to the doctoral level, and a school principal, another highly educated individual, be so out of step—and prepared to implement decisions that reek of discrimination and insensitivity, perhaps unintentionally, under the guise of discipline? […]”

Some Trinity College (Moka) students look on from outside the main building during the 2023 graduation ceremony.

The following Letter to the Editor on the decision by Trinity College (Moka) to block several students from taking full part in their graduation ceremony due to their hairstyles was submitted to Wired868 by Louis W Williams of St Augustine:

This unsavoury matter relating to the recent Trinity College graduation ceremony fiasco has caused me great anguish.

In any depiction of Jesus Christ—whether, incorrectly, as a blonde, blue-eyed man or otherwise—he is portrayed as a man with long hair. In fact, many purists in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions frown on the cutting of one’s hair.

These religions all, in effect, share the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, and the purist can cite passages in the Old Testament which forbid the cutting of one’s hair.

In fact, quite ironically, the cutting of one’s hair is viewed as a vain fashion statement that goes against the natural order of things and God’s law.

The painting ‘Christ Before Caiaphas’ was done by Italian painter Duccio di Buoninsegna before Michelango’s ‘Italianised’ version of Jesus.

I have stated before that the “Revolution” that took place in 1970, in T&T, is an unfinished revolution. If we do not continue to educate and sensitise our younger generation on their self-worth then, unfortunately, history is inclined to repeat itself.

Yes, there are laws that offer protection including the relevant constitutional provisions. However, we need to go beyond that aspect of things. Litigation is time-consuming, expensive and disruptive of relationships.

How in Heaven’s name could a senior cleric of the Anglican Church, who is so gifted and educated up to the doctoral level, and a school principal, another highly educated individual, be so out of step—and prepared to implement decisions that reek of discrimination and insensitivity, perhaps unintentionally, under the guise of discipline?

The Very Reverend Dr Shelley-Ann Tenia (centre) at at TTPS inter-faith relegious service during the Covid-19 pandemic.
(Copyright TTPS)

The actions of these ladies, in debarring the young men from fully participating in their graduation ceremony because of their well-groomed and fashionable hairstyles is deplorable.

The way these young men were treated reminded me of the dark old days of Segregation in the USA and Apartheid in South Africa and Zimbabwe. These young men, on one of the most auspicious days in their lives, were separated from their fellow students, and they and their parents had to endure the humiliation of being treated like outcasts.

I am sure that most of us who are conscious about our African heritage have seen the video footage of the signs at certain facilities, including washrooms, in segregated USA: “No blacks and dogs allowed”.

I still, often enough, shed a tear whenever I see such footage.

Both the cleric and the principal are relatively young individuals who were either not yet born, or were babies/toddlers in 1970. What were they taught in the primary and secondary schools they attended? What were they taught at the universities they attended? What about the relevant teacher training college and theological institute?

Food for thought.

Students vent their feelings during the 1970 uprising in Trinidad.
(Copyright Apoesho Mutope/ NJAC)

What is even more appalling about this matter is that it appears there was a committee (“a board”) that was aware of this matter for over a year, and never sought to take the proactive approach of reviewing and obviously changing its ghastly policy on this matter. Board members need to be made of sterner stuff.

The Anglican Church has had an unenviable past as a complicit agent in the matter of Slavery/Human Trafficking in the Caribbean. I am sure that it would wish not to replicate any semblance of a similar degradation and utter disrespect of human beings.

A profoundly sincere apology must now be conveyed to the affected students and their parents by the Anglican Bishop of T&T. To err is human. Love, repentance and forgiveness are very noble human qualities which I dare say would not be lost on the affected students and their parents.

A Trinity College (Moka) student who was denied the chance to sit with his classmates during the 2023 graduation ceremony.

My understanding is that the issue under consideration is not isolated to Trinity College, but is also plaguing other secondary schools.

I understand the restrictions imposed on the government by the Concordat. However, I pray that good sense will prevail in the discussions between the Minister of Education and the relevant stakeholders on 6 July, leading to the voluntary elimination of such discriminatory practices wherever they exist.

Let us not have the courts of law determine for us what we know is right and can decide for ourselves.

Trinity College (Moka).

Statement on 30 June 2023 from The Governing Body of Trinity College Chairperson The Very Reverend Dr Shelley-Ann Tenia, dean and rector, The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Trinity College, Moka, Maraval:

Trinity College, Moka is a government-assisted Anglican secondary school managed by the Trinity Board of Governors. For more than sixty (60) years the College has distinguished itself by providing a safe environment for the holistic formation of young minds who excel in every discipline.

The Board congratulates the graduating class of 2023. We are immensely proud of our graduates and the entire school administration for their unwavering dedication and commitment to equipping our students with the essential skills for future success.

The administration of Trinity College, Moka, in conjunction with its Board of Governors, issues the following statement in respect of the regrettable events at the school’s Valedictory Service on 27 June 2023. The photograph with the narrative being widely circulated showing a group of boys standing outside the church is misleading and deeply disturbing.

Contrary to some reports, all graduands and parents were accommodated at the service. The students who failed to comply with the school uniform policy, hairstyle or otherwise, regardless of ethnicity, were seated in the side chapel, within the body of the church and received their certificates, at the event, after the vote of thanks.

We acknowledge that this course of action did not sit well with all parents and students. We understand the disappointment, embarrassment and vexation of parents and students—both those who received their certificates later in the programme and those who witnessed and endured the conduct of a few young men and some parents.

Trinity College chair Dr Shelley-Ann Tenia is also dean and rector of The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity.

The Valedictory Service is an annual act of worship held at an Anglican Church. After months of regular email notices and reminders in assemblies about the various aspects of the uniform policy, and in the weekly notices of the 11th, 18th and 25th of June, all parents and students were advised that students attending the service were expected to be in full and proper dress uniform as outlined in the student handbook (pages 10 and 14).

Further, on the 13th and 22nd June at the service briefing and rehearsal, students were reminded that, should they breach the Dress Code regulation, they would not be allowed to process with their peers.

While acknowledging the various perspectives and views surrounding the uniform policy, we stand firm that acceptable conduct dictates that existing rules and regulations must be followed until and unless they are altered or amended.

We stand willing to continue discussions with all stakeholders with a view to ventilating the issues and arriving at a solution ahead of the new academic year, which is consonant with good order and changing norms.

The events of 27 June were, in the view of Trinity College, an act of indiscipline by a few students supported by parents. Compounding the situation was the disruption of the act of worship and the valedictorians as well as blatant disrespect for the Principal and Masters of Ceremonies who attempted to re-establish some order.

The College fosters and supports critical thinking and probing challenges to the status quo. We uphold the values of order, decency and respect; values which we try to inculcate in the young men and women in our care.

Our hallowed halls have educated many of our nation’s leaders, philosophers and change agents. The Board, Administration and Staff of Trinity College Moka wish each of our former students every success as they move on to the next phase of their lives.

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  1. My apologies to the editor for my extremely late reply. I am not as tech-savvy as I ought to be. As a consequence, I was not aware of Mr. Ramcharan’s comments until late yesterday. Your correspondence, my dear editor, was received in my “spam” rather than in my “inbox”. I have not been checking “spam” and only did so today because one of my other contacts informed me that she had forwarded an important message to me a few days ago, however, I never received that message in my “inbox”. Accordingly, one of my much younger relatives suggested it might have been received in “spam”, and it was there I found your correspondence.

    First of all, Mr. Ramcharan has misrepresented my views on this matter. Some time ago, he had also misrepresented my views, at this forum, on another matter. I have never been employed in the Teaching Service and I have never been a member of TTUTA, or worked for that organisation in any capacity. I clearly stated that the position on this matter regarding RIGHTS versus PRIVILEGES was TTUTA’s, not mine.

    In this regard, my understanding of TTUTA’s position is that unlike attendance at school, the graduation ceremony was a privilege – basically a private function – therefore, the school’s board was entitled to employ discriminatory tactics such as was undertaken in this matter. Unless this matter is fully ventilated in a court of law, we are at a disadvantage because we do not know all the relevant facts of this case. For instance, was any part of the Government’s subvention utilised in the planning and execution of this event? What about the utilisation of the teaching staff and, possibly, other employees – whose salaries are paid by the Government – in the the planning and execution of the event, during working hours, if so? There are also a number of constitutional and other legal issues that would have to be addressed in such a matter.

    I do not, however, think that a religious body would wish to pin its hopes on some perceived loophole in the law. Such a body is not a corrupt politician or a murderous mafia boss taking advantage of the ability of an experienced, unscrupulous high-priceed lawyer to get them to “beat the rap”. In all matters, even when the law is on its side, a religious body has to ensure that its decisions do not violate certain moral principles . It must guard its reputation jealously so as not to be perceived as another worldly “smart man” outfit, bereft of moral values. A religious body has to hold itself to a much higher standard and must not set the bar so low that it may be perceived as the beneficiary of unjust laws.

    The Anglican Church has, within recent years, had to beg for forgiveness and try to make amends for its complicity in the Atlantic slave trade. None of its actions at the time were illegal. The applicable laws were on its side. However, its actions at that time were morally offensive, unjust, and it has now expressed remorse for its shameful role in what were crimes against humanity. The Anglican Church does not need a scandal over hairstyles involving, in the main, the descendants of the very same persons who were enslaved. The Chuch cannot be that tone-deaf.

    I have detailed in my earlier comment and my letter why this issue of hairstyles is so vexing given the historical and cultural context (the natural hair type, African ancestry/heritage, etc.). I need say no more on that matter.

    Mr. Ramcharan has accused me of being “emotive”. Dear sir, it seem to me that I am in good company. Where would the world be if Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi were not “emotive”. What if the “emotive” Rosa Parks had not resisted an unjust law? Where would we be sitting?The applicable laws during Slavery, Segregation and Apartheid were all lawful, but offensive and unjust. Unfortunately, there are persons in our midst who are unenlightened and totally insensitive to those developments. Some of them are more British than the English. Frantz Fanon did warn us to be weary of Black Skin, White Mask individuals.

    So sad!

  2. Dr. Hatshepsut Nolene Kisa-Davidson

    What is the meaning of “the Very Reverend “? These people are not enlightened beings at all. Puppets and followers of an alternative reality, rooted and grounded in the Council of Nicaea, promulgated by Emperor Constantine and the Romans, crossed over to Britain as Episcopalian, the foundation of the British American slave trade and rooted in slavery and colonialism. A demon from the past that still possesses the Anglican diocese. Do they want another 1970 revolution?

  3. William Walter does not recognise that a public school is not a private club. Schools cannot just simply create and implement rules willy-nilly in contravention of the the rights and privileges available to students under the Constitution and other laws of T&T. That would be anarchy, pure and simple, and certainly the absence of law and order. Moreover, the rules must be reviewed periodically to ensure that they are not in contravention of the relevant laws of our country, they are reflective of current social norms and they are not discriminatory. That is the duty of the rule-makers. They ought not to await a formal request for a change of unfair/inappropriate rules.

    In this particular case, the school board was aware, for over a year, of the concerns of the students regarding a very oppressive hairstyle policy of the school that was not reflective of their natural hair type, their African ancestry/heritage and, indeed, was very archaic and discriminatory.

    It is my understanding that the students were allowed to attend school with the hairstyles that contravened the school rules. It is not uncommon, globally, for certain unfair school rules to be suspended while a review is being undertaken. Apparently, no review was being undertaken, it was just simply a case of a failure to enforce unfair rules for reasons best known to the relevant authorities.

    This is not a matter of indiscipline. It is a matter of discrimination – a very serious matter indeed.

    The affected students and their parents were entitled to take protest action at the graduation ceremony to draw this blatant act of discrimination to the attention of the national community. Like me, I have no doubt that many of our citizens were flabbergasted that such acts of blatant discrimination were taking place in our country in 2023. We all thought that we had long ago passed that stage.

    The students and their parents are heroes. They stood up for what is right. Peaceful potest action is not a Bishop’s tea party and, to be effective, is often disruptive, as both Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi would have taught us.

    The reference to “anarchy” and “law and order” by Mr. Walter on this matter is totally misplaced. There was an obligation to protest an unfair decision. The students and their parents taught the principal and the cleric/chairperson of the school board an important lesson.

    Mr Walter needs to familiarise himself with the events of 1970, and the protest actions taken in pursuit of the abolition of Segregation in the USA, and Apartheid in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

    I have noted that since the publication of my letter, TTUTA, the representative body for teachers, has in a newspaper column (Newsday: July 4, 2023), in my view, essentially agreed that Trinity College cannot enforce those school rules as a prerequisite for attendance in class. However, incredibly, TTUTA has asserted that the graduation ceremony was a PRIVILEGE and not a RIGHT and, therefore, the organisers of that function were entitled to create and implement their own rules for that occasion. How absurd!

    Notwithstanding what I have stated above, I do not support the use of obscene language under any circumstances. If, as reported in the news media, some parents did so then such actions must be condemned. Emotions run high in such matters and that is understandable, but we must always be careful about the example we are setting for the younger generation.

    • I am glad that you recognise graduating is a privilege and not a right. Now, you need to understand the difference between a privilege and a right.

      You are writing from an emotive point of view based upon your feelings. The law is dispassionate and I have provided you with the case law in another comment, which permits the restriction of rights, since with the exception of:

      your right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way
      your right to HOLD religious and non-religious beliefs.

      all rights can be restricted under certain circumstances.

  4. Freedom does not mean having no rules to abide by.

    Freedom without rules is anarchy.

    If anyone wants to join a particular association or club, you agree to follow their rules.

    Schools have their own rules which they are entitled to enforce equally, in each instance.

    If a student or parent would like to suggest changes to the rules, then address that formally and await a response. Building consensus may well lead to the desired change.

    Don’t so up to the “final event” and cry foul.

    This is why our country is failing, no discipline, no tolerance, no law and order. We just want to do what we want to do however it suits us.

    Freedom is the cry, anarchy is the result.

    Just take a look around or read the newspaper – its there if you choose to see it.

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