Dr Shelley-Ann Tenia, chairman of the Trinity Board of Governors –
As more organisations criticise Trinity College, Moka, Maraval, over the hair controversy involving students, the college’s governing body issued a statement on Friday but made no apologies for the school policy.
On Tuesday, students were prohibited from crossing the stage to receive their certificates at the All Saints Anglican Church in Port of Spain because their haircuts were deemed improper and in violation of school guidelines.
The statement on Friday came from the college’s administration, in conjunction with its board of governors, on “the regrettable events at the school’s valedictory service on June 27.”
It said the college is a government-assisted Anglican secondary school managed by the Trinity Board of Governors.
For over 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 congratulated the graduating class of 2023.
It added it was “immensely proud” of the graduates and the entire school administration for their unwavering dedication and commitment to equipping our students with the essential skills for future success.
It referred to the widely circulated photograph showing a group of boys standing outside the church as misleading and deeply disturbing.
The statement said, 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.”
Board: Rules must be followed
The statement said the valedictory service was an annual act of worship held at an Anglican Church.
After months of regular e-mail notices and reminders in assemblies about the various aspects of the uniform policy. In the weekly notices dated June 11, 18, and 25, 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 ten and 14).
At the service briefing and rehearsal on June 13 and 22, students were further 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,” the statement said.
“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 college views the “events of June 27” as 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 reestablish some order,” the statement said.
“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 college’s board, administration, and staff wished each of their former students every success as they move on to the next phase of their lives.
Earlier in the day, the NGO Emancipation Support Committee of TT (ESCTT) and the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) expressed their displeasure controversy.
ESCTT: We must break unjust rules
A statement on Friday from ESCTT said it was appalled but not shocked by the treatment meted out to the students who were “ostracised by their school principal” on their graduation day.
It added, “We interpret this act as tangible evidence of the ongoing discrimination against people of African descent, which is embedded in our society as part of its colonial inheritance.
Removing such discriminatory practices is part of the unfinished business of emancipation and independence.”
The committee said it was heartened by the level of consciousness and solidarity demonstrated by many people.
“A healthy, enlightened and civilised society whose members respect themselves, their history, culture, identity and that of others within the society, should all be rallying for the human rights of the children which have been abridged.
“We envisage living in a society where the human rights are respected and safeguarded.”
The statement said society must remove the vestiges of institutionalised and systemic racism and discrimination, manifested in rules and regulations which were designed to denigrate, disempower and stimulate self-hate among Africans while assuaging the imagined fears of the colonial masters.
“Yes, we do have to break rules and regulations that are unjust and not in our best interest, such as rules that reinforce hair discrimination and we congratulate the students for maintaining their stand in this matter.”
The statement cited Rosa Parks’ refusal to relinquish her bus seat, saying it was an act that catalysed the end of segregation in US public transportation.
It added, “Discipline does not equate to compliance with rules and regulations that perpetuate humiliation and cultural denial. We are in the UN International Decade for People of African Descent, and TT has agreed to the programme of activities proposed for implementation during this decade.”
ESCTT appealed to the Government, the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) and the Education Ministry for immediate remedial action. Before this latest controversy, ESCTT said it communicated with the ministry, the EOC and the TT Unified Teachers’ Association, offering a collaborative approach to address issues that negatively impact students of African descent and enhance the cultural sensitivity of teachers.
The committee said it remained ready to support such action for the success of students in the education system, and to allow them to achieve their full potential.
Considering itself a key stakeholder in education in TT, ESCTT said it actively participated in the process by providing opportunities for learning directly to students in both primary and secondary schools. The committee said it looks forward to receiving an invitation from the ministry to participate in the stakeholders’ meeting planned for July 6.
NJAC: Trinity must apologise
Meanwhile, the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) called on the college’s administration to apologise publicly to the affected students and their parents.
“From all reports, the students who suffered this most shameful experience wore hairstyles that were neat and well groomed. However, most, if not all, wore cane row or afro hair styles,” a statement from the political organisation said on Friday.
“NJAC is of the view that the action of the school’s administration was in direct violation of the students’ constitutional rights.”
It referred to Section 4 (i) of the constitution which states that all citizens have the right to freedom of thought and expression.
NJAC also referred to Chapter 22:03 of the Equal Opportunity Act which says a person should not be discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, religion, origin, marital status or disability.
“If one is to accept that the laws of the country take precedence over the laws of any institution within, then the Trinity College administration has some serious questions to answer,” the statement said.
Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly has referred to the incident as “unfortunate and regrettable.”
NJAC said it believes that the Minister of Education cannot hide behind words that may appear diplomatic.
“The situation that unfolded at the graduation ceremony is not only regrettable, it is unacceptable, and the administration must be made fully aware of this,” the statement said.
“NJAC considers this issue to be not only unfortunate but a very serious one that goes beyond just the school or the students who were affected.”
NJAC questioned whether the administration felt it was worth engendering so much hurt and pain on so many parents and students at such a significant moment in their lives.
NJAC said it was “quite disheartening” to accept that 53 years after the TT Revolution of 1970, as a nation still has to grapple with an issue of discrimination of such a nature.
“The issue of appreciation and acceptance of one’s cultural values based on one’s heritage was a major focus of the Revolution in 1970, “ it said.
“Our people were taught and encouraged to no longer define standards of beauty and social acceptance according to Eurocentric values but rather to have pride in our African and Indian heritage.”
NJAC said the situation is not just as simple as having a conversation “as the minister suggests.”
“The minister is 53 years late. That conversation took place between NJAC and the people since 1970. This situation must not stand as a precedent for others to follow,” the statement said.
“The very social fabric of the nation may very well be at stake. This is why NJAC believes that nothing less than a public apology is acceptable and will be writing the school’s principal to this effect.”