Trinity University Hosts Socially-Distanced Annual Chocolate Fest

A number of balloon towers greeted students when they arrived at the sign-in table by the entrance to Storch Memorial Building. Even though the long line promised a considerable wait, students seemed excited for the event. One of the first large scale in person events on campus in almost a year was finally about to begin. 

Over the afternoon of Mar. 5, 2021, Trinity University’s Student Programming Board (SPB) put on the annual Chocolate Fest. The theme this year was Travis Scott’s Astroworld, so the festival was appropriately named Chocolate World. Traditionally the event takes place around Valentine’s Day and allows different clubs and departments to make chocolate treats that anyone can try. However, this year’s Chocolate Fest was different due to COVID-19.  

Small local bakeries gave away their goodies to students instead of clubs, giving students a unique situation from years past. That Cookie Tho Bakery, Annie’s Petite Treats, El Paraiso Ice Cream, Macarons by Drew, and The Art of Donut all had tents situated on upper campus where they gave away their desserts. 

COVID-19 regulations necessitated other changes to the festival as well. Students had to sign up for a time slot and a tour group several days before the event, so walk-ons were not allowed. The structured nature of the tour required some waiting for sign-in at the beginning, but after that the tour flowed quite smoothly. Each group numbered about 12 people and was led by a guide from station to station getting chocolate desserts from each.

 A refreshing cup of peppermint hot chocolate started the tour off in a Winter Wonderland. Next up was the giveaway booth, where attendees received a choice of numerous articles of free clothing emblazoned with Chocolate World logos. Following that students headed to Candyland, where they could try cupcakes and chocolate-shaped board game pieces. A short hop from Candyland took tours to Carnival, where we took in more donuts than we could carry. After donuts we went to Space where we enjoyed cosmic brownies, earth cake pops, and galaxy macarons. The final stop was at Fiesta, where we had churros in chocolate sauce, chocolate conchas, and chocolate paletas.

The success of an event of such a large size shows how it is possible to hold events on campus in the time of COVID-19 and still follow social distancing and masking requirements. In general there was a positive reaction to the event. When asked about Chocolate World, attendee Christian Kennedy, Class of 2024, stated that he “was glad that it happened, though [he] really wished there was more happening on campus, and hopefully this shows that more events can be done and done safely.”

Experts Weigh in on the Importance of the Electoral College

Any attempt to reform the Electoral College will bring seismic changes to American politics and government, and we have to take these reforms seriously and discuss them.

I was in a meeting in November of last year for the TU Election Initiative when the idea of a webinar open to all students and faculty was floated. Several topics were discussed before we settled for something relevant at the time: the Electoral College. Scheduling the webinar for late January, we figured the institution would be a good topic to keep students engaged and give them an opportunity to field questions to experts (we got three experts to attend: Gary Gregg, John Fortier, and James Pfiffer). I volunteered to moderate the Q&A portion, giving myself a front-row seat and facilitating discussion between the panelists and the Trinity community. The only thing I worried about was that students would be disengaged by the time of the webinar, and there would be scant interest.

That changed when the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol building on January 6, the day Congress was to certify the electoral votes and cement Joe Biden as the 46th President. While the Electoral College was not front and center in news coverage following the riot, I was hopeful that interest in the Electoral College in the Trinity community was revamped. I saw that that was the case when well over 50 students, faculty, and staff attended the webinar. 

Each of the experts took around 15-20 minutes explaining their positions and opinions on the Electoral College. Each discussed the Electoral College history, why it is the way it is, and possible reforms (e.g., the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact). After they were finished, I took over as moderator and fielded as many questions as I could. I have to give credit to the audience for asking many tough and insightful questions, such as asking about the compatibility of alternative voting systems (e.g., ranked-choice voting) with the Electoral College and any possible bias toward red/blue states. I was impressed with the number of questions that were asked, but I could only get to so many before the webinar was over. 

Overall, I think the webinar went very well. The attendance rate, the expertise offered, and the questions asked prove that the Electoral College factors heavily in people’s minds when they think about politics and voting. Additionally, it is still a controversial institution with serious efforts being mounted to reform or abolish it, although the Electoral College is probably not going away anytime soon. That means we have to continue to have conversations, discussions, and debates about the future of the Electoral College because the institution is more than a method of picking the next president. It represents what kind of republic we want and what values we prioritize.

Any attempt to reform the Electoral College will bring seismic changes to American politics and government, and we have to take these reforms seriously and discuss them. And it always helps to remember our history and know-how the Electoral College has shaped the presidency and how it continues to function today. Its future is certainly up in the air but based on what I saw during the webinar, and I am confident that we will find a way to make the institution more democratic while preserving the republican principles this country was founded on.

My Last Vespers

Rohan—an old friend, raised Hindu, now not-so-much—leaned over to me at our sophomore year Vespers and said, “This is aggressively Christian.” 

“It’s a Christian ceremony, bro,” said Lutfi, older friend, former roommate, raised Muslim, still Muslim.

Chappy, my roommate, a Hebrew glyph on his necklace, deflected to a lesser conflict: “Ecclesiastical and jazz are the only two acceptable types of Christmas music.” He cut himself off once the next hymn began and resumed once the echo of the organ faded.

Vespers, the oldest Trinity tradition, it is also one of the few traditions here whose history doesn’t disappoint. Unlike the curse of stepping on the seal, for example, the student government didn’t invent Vespers in 2004. Because it’s the only religious tradition Trinity has kept, it doesn’t take much digging to understand that Vespers has been around a long time. 

The challenge for Trinity of late (the past few decades) has been keeping Vespers in a time when our world doesn’t want faith to grow beyond culture. Instead of treating religion as a search for our Creator and His purpose for us, it’s tidier and easier for us to see faith as a cultural expression of identity, a subject of anthropological dissection.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not hearkening back to some supposed better time when everybody who attended Vespers believed the same thing. It’s a safe bet that such a time doesn’t exist, even when Trinity’s student body was all Presbyterian; every Vespers has probably heard at least one choir singer who doesn’t believe the lyrics.

Chappy’s phone vibrated. It was Rohan, group-texting us: “We going to Oakmont after this?” Was it even a matter of debate? Hot cider and President Anderson’s piano. Of course we were.

“So let’s skip this last song,” he suggested.

None of us stood.

The difference today is one of attitude toward faith. Even to an atheist, faith can be real, even if only as a concept. It stops seeming real once we treat it as a collection of cultural customs instead of a mysterious journey heavenward.

To some extent, all universities that aren’t seminaries have to treat religion that way. We avoid attachment to our subjects of study. During class, Trinity’s attitude toward faith is generous but studious, distant, sometimes sympathetic and sometimes critical, always experimental, always confident that Lakota Shamanism or Judaism or Pentecostalism are small, contained samples on a petri dish, and then it’s onto macro or organic chemistry with a bright blue sky and a smile and the world at rest with reason in charge.

But at Vespers, once the lights dim and the candle flame trickles one by one through the chapel, the sun-washed world of the campus in daytime disappears. Maybe it’s the quietening allure of flame, the same kind of silence that falls around campfires and hearths. Whatever forces are at work, one moment passes each year in Parker Chapel in which the campus rests in the knowledge that something important has happened. It feels real.

Obviously it’s not unanimous. People whisper. Ringtones echo. Somebody makes a joke, somebody else laughs, somebody shushes. But the atmosphere is different. The whispers and ringtones and jokes feel like interruptions instead of expected background noise.

“Come on. Y’all can’t even understand this song without the program. Shit’s in Latin.”

“So? It’s beautiful anyway,” Chappy said.

For students and faculty and all those who live their lives by the Trinity academic calendar, Vespers is like the annual equivalent of the moment between going to bed and falling asleep. It means the end of things for a while. It’s the downbeat in a yearlong rhythm, the start and finish line, when you can’t help but think about all the things that have happened since the last time the lights went down. This year is my last time arriving early but still too late and sitting in the high back rows below the trumpet pipes and spilling candle wax on my boots in the dark and leaning forward to hear the harpist and trying to sing along to the hymns. It makes me think of the last beat, the last time I rounded the starting line, and how much has come and gone since then: sneaking into the sanctuary to play the harpsichord they had left for some concert, kneeling at the stone benches in the chapel garden, leaving the chapel after Vespers to breathe fog in the cold December air and play “Silent Night” on banjo at Dean Tuttle’s house and “O Tannenbaum” on piano at President Anderson’s the next year (both men more patient with me than I deserve), leftover cider and unfrozen taquitos at somebody’s house on Oakmont, string lights and handbells and bundled children tugging elderly hands.

We don’t come to Vespers for the short sermons. The swell of the organ, the choir singing lyrics we don’t understand, the harp trilling soft and almost indiscernible, the candles flickering as night falls–that’s why every seat is taken at Parker Chapel by 6pm. Even to those for whom the good tidings of great joy stir no feeling, the beauty of Vespers can make the coming of Christmas seem real.

TUFS, TFL host public abortion debate

On Thursday, Sept. 19, the Trinity University Forensic Society (TUFS) and Tigers for Life (TFL) held a public debate on the legality of abortion. TUFS members Lisel Faust and her debate partner, who asked to not be named, argued in favor of keeping abortion legal, while TFL members Alex Jacobs and Jace Woody argued against it. Each debater gave a four to five minute speech, went into a brief cross-examination period, and then opened the floor to questions from the audience. After that, there was a break for Cane’s and Pizza Classics. Following the break, there was a final period of speeches from each debater. 

The main question was whether abortion should be legal or not. TUFS focused on arguing for the woman’s right to choose what they want to do with their bodies, while TFL focused on the immorality of taking an innocent human life.

Some other main arguments that the affirmative side introduced was the differentiation between a fetus and a baby, unsafe abortions occurring if the government makes abortion illegal, and the issue of having an abortion in the case of rape. The negative side refuted these arguments by saying that this is beyond a women’s issue because it involves the taking of a human life, arguing that just because unsafe abortions occur does not make it morally right to take an innocent human life. In cases of rape, the negative side argued that rape is not a reason to kill an innocent human life. 

The issue of abortion was important to the debaters on both sides.

“I believe the right of abortion should be protected because there are so many women out there that should have the decision on how this big, fundamental decision in their life should turn out,” said affirmative debater Lisel Faunt. 

On the other hand, Jace Woody wanted to debate against the legality of abortion because of his human rights-based philosophy. “All lives are important, we are all human, and we all have the right to live. Millions of innocent people are being killed, and I should be there to stop the taking of human life,” he said.

The affirmative side did not focus on when life begins, but instead mainly discussed a women’s right to choose. The negative side continued to argue that abortion takes away innocent human lives. 

The lecture room in Northrup was almost full, as students packed in to support their peers and learn more. During the cross-examination period, students asked questions like, “Where can we draw the line for freedom of choice?” and “If abortion was illegal, what should be the punishment for a woman getting an abortion?” 

Tigers for Life has weekly meetings on Thursdays at 6 pm in the Woodlawn room, and the Trinity University Forensic Society will continue to host more public debates in the future on contentious issues such as this.

Bob Fu of ChinaAid Speaks to YCT about Christianity, Communism

Tuesday, March 19, Trinity University’s Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) hosted Bob Fu. Fu is the founder and president of ChinaAid, a non-profit, Christian-based organization that advocates for human rights and religious freedom in China. ChinaAid gives financial and moral support to Christian Chinese families who have been persecuted by the Chinese government. His main goal is for Chinese Christians and other religious groups to express their religion with ease and without persecution from the Chinese government.

To begin his speech, Fu gave a short backstory about his earlier life and how ChinaAid came to be founded. While attending university in Beijing, he participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square student and intellectuals demonstrations. During which Fu and his girlfriend at the time, now his wife, Heidi, converted to Christianity. Soon after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, he was imprisoned in China for identifying as a Christian. It was these incidents in his life that highlight his history of fighting for freedom and democracy in China.

Bob Fu is not the only one to have been imprisoned for his religious beliefs. Even today, many Chinese Christians are being imprisoned for their faith. In fact, one who expresses his or her faith is considered a political dissident, which can warrant imprisonment.

“Hearing that from the point of view of someone who grew up under a regime like China was shocking,” said Daniel Mitchell, a junior at Trinity University.

However, it is not only Chinese Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. “One to three million Muslims are being put into concentration camps by the Communist Party,” explained Fu.

The Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic minority from Xinjiang province, are being torn from their homes and sent to concentration camps by the Chinese Communist Party.

Fu further explained that the amount of Christians in China actually grew after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. He predicts that there will be over 200 million Christians in China within the next 20 to 30 years.

“It was interesting to see Fu’s predictions of the numbers regarding the amount of future Chinese Christians,” said Ian Kavanagh, a senior at Trinity University who worked at ChinaAid this past summer.

Fu is optimistic about the growth of the amount of Christians in China, he predicted there will soon be more than 200 million Chinese Christians. “Sooner or later, they [Chinese government] will realize that imprisoning these Christians will not be a sustainable policy,” he said.

Fu believes that imprisoning people for their faith will eventually become unsustainable because Chinese prisons “will not able to hold every single Christian in China.”

Even though religious persecution continues in China, Bob Fu will not give up. Today, he continues as president of ChinaAid to advocate for religious freedom and basic human rights in China. ChinaAid continues to support persecuted families in need and educating those who are not familiar with this issue.

Photo courtesy YCT.

Religion, Noise, and Dr. Seuss

On Tuesday, March 26, Dr. Isaac Weiner gave a lecture “When Religion Becomes Noise” at Trinity University. Dr. Weiner has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and currently serves as a faculty member in the department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University.

Weiner’s lecture discussed religious pluralism in the U.S. and the way that public religious sounds, such as Christian church bells or the Islamic call to prayer, complicate the issue. He explained that sounds are more invasive than sights, and are more likely to be the cause of complaint.

This begs the questions: Which sounds get classified as merely “noise” and which sounds are tolerated on the basis of religious freedom? Which sounds are “out of place” and which sounds belong in the public sphere? How do religions coexist? How are Americans inclusive without becoming oppressive?

“I want people to think about the relationship between our public culture and our assumptions about the kind of society we want to build,” said Weiner. “What we’re willing to tolerate in public says something about what we aspire to be as a society.”

According to Weiner, only the sounds of the majority typically prevail. The majority has the ability to reclassify their sounds as secular in order to justify their presence. For example, a church’s bells are not a call to the service, but a secular marking of time; Christmas is not a religious celebration, but rather a national holiday.

Weiner referred to a well-known children’s book, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to illustrate his point. The Grinch’s heart grows three sizes after the Whos are unaffected by his attempts to ruin Christmas, and he joins in with the Whoville caroling. Weiner asked attendees to imagine a more sinister reading of the story, in which the Whos’ singing is forced upon the Grinch, a minority, who is then forced to assimilate to their attitudes and join in their sound. As it turns out, this is the reality of religious pluralism in the U.S. today.

Weiner presented several historical examples of regulation or repression of religious sounds, including St. Mark’s church bells in 1870s Philadelphia, Jehovah’s Witness sound cars in 1946, and the Islah Islamic Center’s call to prayer in Hamtramck, MI in 2004.

Each of these case studies is heavily discussed in Weiner’s book, Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism. In each case, the sound is treated differently depending on the majority opinion and tradition.

For example, in Hamtramck, MI, many claimed the Islamic call to prayer was “out of place” in the historically Polish Catholic city where church bells were practically a part of the landscape. In one sweep, people could suffocate the sounds they didn’t want to hear and replace them with ones they did. In cases like this, the minority finds itself unable to make sound and instead forced to join in with the noise of the majority, as the Grinch does with the Whos’ caroling in Dr. Seuss’s story.

“As we negotiate what it means to live in a religiously diverse society,” said Weiner, “we must continue to work toward the full inclusion of all religious communities in our public and civic life.”

The public sphere should be a place for the freedom of religious expression, including religious sound. Oppression of minority expression is not an option for Americans who wish to build a better and more virtuous society.

The lecture was sponsored by the Trinity University Humanities Collective as part of their current focus on the First Amendment, particularly the freedom of religion clause. On April 8 at 5:30pm in Chapman Auditorium, Trinity University will host another religion scholar, Dr. Nicola Denzey Lewis from Claremont Graduate University, to speak on lost ancient Christian documents from Egypt.

Photo by Kathleen Arbogast.

Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Comes to Trinity

This year’s Flora Cameron lecture at Trinity University became commemorative with the unfortunate passing of Flora Cameron Crichton on March 2 of this year. Before her passing, Crichton was able to select Doris Kearns Goodwin as the speaker for the lecture. Goodwin is a presidential historian, political commentator and award-winning author/biographer. She spoke on her book Leadership in Turbulent Times, a New York Times bestseller on March 27 in Laurie Auditorium.

“Little could I have imagined how relevant that title would be today,” joked Goodwin at the beginning of the lecture. However, she switched to a more serious demeanor and contemplated a question that she is often asked: ‘are these the worst of times?’ “The answer history provides is no,” said Goodwin in answer to the question. She pointed to and referenced many American Presidents, but focused on Lyndon B. Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. She highlighted the “turbulent times“ that all these men faced, such as the civil war and industrial revolution, and stated that “each one of these situations cried out for leadership, and each of the four men was peculiarly fitted for the time.”

Goodwin shifted her focus to the qualities that make up leaders. She pulled a Teddy Roosevelt quote in which he said, “most success comes when people develop ordinary talents to an extraordinary degree from hard sustained work.” This she acknowledged as being a key to success but not a universal key to leadership. She made a list of qualities that are almost universally applicable, “humility, empathy, resilience, courage, the ability to listen to diverse opinions, controlling of impulses, connect with all manner of people, communicate through stories and keep[ing] one’s word.” Goodwin went into great detail on how her studied presidents portrayed these qualities and acknowledged that there is not just one key to being a successful leader.

Nearing the end of her lecture she recalled a quote from Leo Tolstoy about Lincoln.  “He wasn’t as great a general as Napoleon, he wasn’t as great a statesman as Frederick the great. But his greatness consisted in the integrity of his character and the moral fiber of his being, the ultimate standard for judging our leaders.” She concluded that it wasn’t necessarily the triumphs of a leader that determined their success, but the effect they have as people, on people.

Goodwin closed with a touching and powerful personal anecdote on why history came to interest her and why it is so important. She thanked history for “allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back in the past, allowing me to believe in the pride and people we have lost and love in our families, and the public figures we have respected in history really can live on, so long as we pledge to tell and retell the stories of their lives.”

Photo by “Rhododendrites” on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Secular Student Alliance Begins Meeting

The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) at Trinity University is a new addition to the Trinity Community. The group holds bi-monthly meetings at 5pm on Thursdays in Northrup Hall 332. The meetings have an attendance of around 20-30 people and the atmosphere is extremely welcoming.

The meeting started with a mission-statement-like expectation for the discussions that would be taking place: “Our meetings are a place for secular, nonreligious or questioning people to express themselves in a safe space and have thoughtful discussion on taboo topics in many other places. We reserve the right to ask anyone to leave if they become rude, confrontational or act in a way not conducive to productive and polite dialogue.” This is a completely fair expectation. Groups on campus hold meetings so they can come together as a community with similar interests and/or beliefs. People should respect this freedom and right to assembly, or expect to be asked to leave.

The discussion part of the meeting mainly focused on the categorization of the types of secularism. There was time for everyone present to say where they fall on a scale of religious belief. This included everything from being a “Sunday stalwart” to “solidly secular”. Those who are part of the Facebook group for the SSA had an online test to determine where they fell on this scale. Another categorization was the different types of atheist you could be. This was actually where a lot of diversity among the members became apparent. Some people declared not believing in a higher power and thought that religion can actually be harmful, while others just said they weren’t sure if there was a higher power but did not think that religion was inherently harmful.

Later in the meeting, there was the discussion question of why or why not members considered themselves atheist. As a Catholic, and apparently a “Sunday stalwart”, the reasons I gave were vastly different even from those who weren’t ready to call themselves a full-on atheist. However, the response to my reasons was completely respectful of my viewpoint despite not agreeing with it. There was no cross-examination of my religious beliefs. Additionally, when I stated that I was attending the meeting to learn more about secularism, there was enthusiasm from a large proportion of the members.

In the future I will most likely not be attending SSA meetings as I have a strong belief in God and that having faith in Him does more good than harm. However, anyone who is interested in learning about secularism should know that this is a great environment to do so in.

Photo by onnola. CC BY-SA 2.0. Source.

The Allure of Tradition at Trinity’s Christmas Vespers

Photo courtesy of Trinity University’s digital access management.

The experience of listening to Silent Night being sung by hundreds of hushed voices as you watch the dancing candle flames filling Parker Chapel is truly a beautiful thing, and one which makes me extremely proud of my university. Although Trinity may not be a remarkably Christian school (despite our “covenant relationship” with the Presbyterian Church USA), we still hold onto this traditional worship service and celebrate the coming of Christ together.

Seeing our humble chapel filled to the brim with people is a drastic change from when there are ecumenical services offered by the university chaplain, which typically draw abysmal attendance. It usually takes a student organization such as Catholic Student Group (CSG) or Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) to produce any sort of crowd in this building.

Vespers is different, however. There’s something about the biblical readings, collection of traditional carols and candlelight which draws hundreds of students to haunt the halls of Parker Chapel, while on every other Sunday they would avoid it like the plague. Something in the spirit of the event attracts us, even in the midst of final exams and holiday-induced stress, as we collectively decide to take part in a tradition which is so unapologetically Christian.

The first time I experienced Vespers, I was in awe. It amazed me to see so many of my non-believer peers attend an event which had prayers, Gospel readings and meditations on the true meaning of Christmas. Instead of choosing to just go to the fun Christmas on Oakmont and eat tamales at Dean Tuttle’s house, they also decided to spend an hour of their time at a church service. I questioned why a secular student would want to attend such an event but not even believe in the person of Jesus Christ, let alone the fact that he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary.

At first I believed it might be because of the music. The Trinity Choir sings beautiful carols, and many love to hear these well-known songs despite their religious affiliation. It’s almost universal how much we enjoy Christmas music.

But that can’t be it. Just two days prior we have the Christmas Concert, where the choir along with other musical groups from across campus all perform even more carols, and without the ‘interruption’ of biblical readings and prayers. If people just wanted to hear some good music, they would already have an event to attend.

So what is the reason, then? What is it about this event, which has been celebrated for decades on Trinity’s campus, that makes it so beloved by our changing campus demographic (even as we become more and more liberal and secular with each passing year)?

I believe people come to these events, not in spite of their traditional aspects, but because of them. In a campus bubble which is quickly growing further and further away from traditional lifestyles and sentiments, our student body is hungry for remnants of the culture we know is missing from our lives. Maybe we grew up going to a similar service with our families on Christmas, or maybe we’ve never really experienced anything like Vespers. Either way, it’s out of the ordinary for many of us, which draws us in.

It’s also the simplicity of the event which pulls us in. Even though the incarnation of Christ isn’t simple by nature, the story of a mother and a child can be understood by anyone. It is a refreshing change from the messages which are pushed onto us during the Christmas season: that this time of year is all about buying and receiving gifts, and the best way to prepare for December 25 is to shop, shop, shop. Young people today are turned off by this vapid consumerism, often yearning for something more. The story of the Nativity carries with it a plainness which makes it relatable to all, making it all the more beautiful and genuine in its celebration.  

This is exactly why Christmas Vespers is so necessary. It is more than just a fun and an easy draw for admissions staff (I’m looking at you, fountain dunk, magic stones and Leeroy’s toes), but instead an authentic display of love and joy for the true reason for the season. I’m proud to go to a university that not only allows such a beautiful display of faith, but promotes it, and I surely hope that it continues for generations more of Trinity students.