Trinity Washington University Witnesses Authenticity in Living the Mission

May 3, 2021 | Good Works, News & Events

On November 22, 2020, President Patricia McGuire unveils the portrait of Sr. Margaret Claydon, SNDdeN, beloved President Emerita. RIP, February 1, 2020

By Ann Pauley, Vice President of Advancement and Media Relations

Patricia McGuire, President of Trinity Washington University, draws inspiration from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) everyday: “The best – and still most revolutionary at Trinity was the idea of the Sisters to found this college. All of us at Trinity owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Sisters for their vision, courage and steadfastness in ensuring the vitality of Trinity’s mission.” President McGuire, who is in her 33rd year as Trinity’s leader, added, “We look forward to their moral and spiritual influence, wise guidance and passionate commitment to social justice as we work together in advancing the mission of Trinity in the years to come.” When the Sisters founded Trinity College in 1897, it was indeed a revolutionary idea: To create the nation’s first Catholic college for women, guided by the SNDdeN charism and values. Amidst controversy and opposition, the Sisters were undeterred and persisted in their vision. On August 20, 1897, Trinity was chartered by an Act of Congress. In 2004, Trinity College became Trinity Washington University to reflect its growth and its breadth of academic programs.

Some Dreamers gather for a photo opportunity in Payden Academic Center.

History and Heritage
Throughout its history, Trinity has been a catalyst for change, continuing its revolutionary idea of educating women, while meeting the needs of its diverse student body and staying true to the values of the Sisters.

Celebrate in 2022 Trinity’s Mission for 125 Years

Today, as Trinity plans to celebrate, in 2022, the 125th anniversary of its founding, the university draws on its rich history, its strength today and its bright future. “Trinity at the present moment is flourishing with the vision of our Foundresses,” said Sister Camilla Burns, SNDdeN, Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at Trinity and the former SNDdeN Congregational Leader. “I marvel at its authenticity in living the dream in such a full and vibrant way. Sister Julia McGroarty, the Foundress of Trinity, said we should keep to the tradition and adapt to the times. That is Trinity today and it is a privilege to be here.”

Trinity today is thriving and is a national innovator for gender, racial, economic and social equity in higher education. Trinity enrolls more than 1,800 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs, and 95% of the students are Black/African-American, Hispanic and multi-racial, representing a broad range of global communities. Reflecting the university’s historic and ongoing commitment to women’s education, 94% of Trinity’s students are women. More than 80% of Trinity’s students reside in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. More than half of Trinity students are residents of the D.C. – Trinity proudly educates more D.C. residents than any other private university. Reflecting the circumstances of poverty and marginalization that afflict communities of color, the median family income of full-time Trinity undergraduates is about $25,000; 80% are eligible for Pell grants. Slightly more than 100 Trinity students are undocumented immigrants.

Sister Mary Johnson, SNDdeN and Ann Pauley, Vice President for Advancement, congratulate Timothy Shriver, chair of Special Olympics, for his talk as part of the Billiart Center for Social Justice.

“Trinity lives the Gospel, Catholic social teaching and the Mission of the Sisters of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur every day,” said Sister Mary Johnson, SNDdeN, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies. “Because Trinity is in solidarity with some of the most vulnerable young people in society, Trinity is strengthened, and that strength in turn benefits the students. That commitment to these students has made Trinity a powerhouse, a model of what higher education should be.” “The students of Trinity are the leaders we need in all of the institutions of this society,” added Sister Mary Hayes, SNDdeN, Trinity Archivist. “Their voice, their experience and their strength are crucial for transforming the unjust structures that undergird our society.”

“What I love about Trinity is that students who arrive here really value this opportunity to learn,” said Sister Ann Howard, SNDdeN, Director of Campus Ministry. “Many of them work to support themselves – and their children. They are serious about family values and open to hear about God’s goodness. I marvel at the capabilities of these women today who proclaim, fearlessly, their expectations of fullness of life, equality, justice. God’s goodness is alive and well in the learning and living of the students at Trinity.”

Students at new state-of-the-art nursing lab.

Billiart Center for Social Justice

Sisters Mary Johnson and Camilla Burns created the Billiart Center for Social Justice in 2013 to continue the mission and influence of the SNDdeN at Trinity through lectures, discussions and opportunities to put the idea of social justice into action. The Billiart Center rests on four pillars: scholarship, spirituality and religiosity, and service – pillars on which the identity of Trinity rests as well. The Center explores contemporary local, national and international social and economic issues which affect the lives of women, particularly in the religious and political spheres. The Billiart Center is one of many initiatives launched by Trinity over the past decade.

Programs and Initiatives

Trinity established the School of Nursing and Health Professions in 2010 to support the rapid growth of the nursing program, launched in 2006, and the expansion of new degree programs in other health fields, which today include occupational health and public health. In 2012, Trinity became the university partner at THEARC, a unique nonprofit center in southeast Washington, D.C, serving some of the most impoverished communities in the city. Trinity is the only university to offer degrees East of the Anacostia River.

In 2014, Trinity was one of the first institutions to partner with TheDream.US, a national program that provides scholarships to Dreamers with DACA status. Trinity currently enrolls more than 100 Dreamer Scholars. Trinity launched its Inclusive Excellence Initiative in 2017 to increase the retention and success of women of color, women from low-income areas and first-generation students pursuing science majors. Supported by a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, this initiative builds on Trinity’s strength in science for more than a century and is now being expanded across the curriculum. In 2019, the Trinity Global Leadership Initiative was created, a signature program to emphasize global issues throughout the curriculum supported by a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

Trinity DARE: Driving Actions for Racial Equity

In fall 2020, Trinity launched its boldest, most revolutionary initiative, Trinity DARE: Driving Actions for Racial Equity. “There’s a lot of talk about racial equity, but there needs to be more action,” said President McGuire when she announced the initiative.

These special Clare Boothe Luce Scholars in STEM Program resemble other “Trinity students… citizens of the world, hailing from a remarkable range of nations, speaking dozens of languages and sharing an amazing mosaic of cultures,” said President McGuire… “Our goal is to insure they have the values and perspectives, knowledge and talents to be effective citizen leaders in whatever pathways they follow after graduation.”

“Through Trinity DARE, we commit to taking specific actions that can improve the lifelong economic and social opportunities of our students and their families. For more than 120 years, Trinity has pursued a commitment to equity for women. Today, with a majority of African American students enrolled, and a substantial proportion of Latina students, Trinity affirms that our historic mission includes racial equity in keeping with the Catholic social justice teachings that infuse all teaching and learning in our campus community. Trinity DARE reflects Trinity’s significant leadership in promoting racial equity particularly for students in the Washington region.”

Sister Mary Johnson said that this initiative is consistent with President McGuire’s commitment to racial and economic equity at Trinity and in the community over the past 30 years. “Long before this current moment of awakening, Pat acted on the call of the Gospel to meet the moment.”

In tandem with launching new academic and programmatic initiatives, President McGuire places a priority on creating first-class facilities for students. In 2016, Trinity opened the Payden Academic Center, featuring state-of-the-art science and nursing labs, light-filled classrooms for all disciplines, faculty
offices, study spaces and a new technology hub for the entire campus. The $32-million, LEED certified building is designed to ensure Trinity’s academic excellence, climate for collaboration, research and innovation, and ability to grow and keep pace with scientific and technological advances for generations to come.

Pandemic: Crisis, Response, Renaissance
Like every college and university, Trinity has been impacted by the COVID pandemic. Trinity faculty and students made a quick pivot in spring 2020 to remote learning. Students who needed to stay in residence on campus could do so and Trinity’s full range of academic and student services were available to all students. President McGuire communicated directly and frequently with students, faculty and staff, and surveyed the community many times to get input for the summer and fall semesters.

President McGuire placed a high priority on the health and safety of the Trinity community. She also insisted that plans going forward had to consider the economic consequences of the pandemic on students, faculty and staff: “Our plans must find a way to provide aid to those with acute needs and to reassure others that we will take care of them.”

In fall 2020, Trinity’s enrollment increased by 8%, when many colleges and universities experienced a decline in enrollment because of the pandemic. Trinity continued to provide emergency grants to students facing financial challenges and Chromebooks were distributed to students who could not afford laptops. Even as Trinity pivoted to virtual learning in spring 2020, President McGuire was already looking to the future: Students at new state-of-the-art nursing lab.

“ History reveals that many eras of darkness and crises are followed by times of growth and powerful change, a true renaissance. As we approach Trinity’s 125th Anniversary, in our plans for Trinity’s future leverage, what we have learned in this very challenging era is to create a stronger, more resilient and creative university to serve future generations.”