A recent alumni spotlight has led to much controversy on the relationship between Trinity’s bottom line as a private university and its ethical line as a liberal arts university. On March 6, Trinity released a YouTube video showcasing the achievements of Brad Parscale, Trinity ’99 alum and Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager.
The video, part of Trinity’s Alumni Spotlight series, was made last year, when Parscale was speaking to a class about entrepreneurship. According to Tess Coody-Anders, vice president for communications and marketing, the video was first made spontaneously and held for a more appropriate time.
When Parscale was appointed as Trump’s 2020 campaign manager in February, the university decided it would be a good occasion to release the video, according to Coody-Anders.
Several alumni had reservations about the video, partly because of Parscale’s possible ties with Cambridge Analytica, a data company that has been accused of violating election laws by using Facebook data to target users with personalized political advertisements. Some saw the video as undermining Trinity’s values. There was heated online discussion.
Barbara Osborn Mohs, a Trinity alumna who graduated in 1985, asked in the official alumni Facebook group, “What has happened to leaders with integrity?”
Simran Jeet Singh is a Trinity alum who taught in the religion department from 2015 to 2017. He understood the university’s decision to feature Parscale.
“Having been behind the scenes of the administration with people like President Anderson, Vice President Jones, it’s very clear to me that they are trying to represent the university and its values as well as they can,” Singh said.
However, he does not see Parscale as a success story by his or Trinity’s standards.
“Based on what I’ve learned through my time at Trinity — both as a student and as a professor — for me, success is not defined by fame or wealth.” Singh said. “It’s defined by how one lives in this world. I don’t think Brad Parscale reflects success based on those standards, or that he reflects Trinity values or American ideals.”
One alum, Riggs Garza II, didn’t feel the same way as Singh. According to Riggs, this promotion of success, despite Parscale’s reputation, showed Trinity’s support for its alumni.
“I think all Trinity Alumni who are successful in actively contributing to society — whether we agree with their political or ideological perspective — should be celebrated,” Riggs wrote in the official alumni Facebook group. “I support Trinity on this one.”
Another alum, Gwynne Ash, has retracted donations and support from the university in response to the video. Ash is a professor of education at Texas State University.
“It seemed to me that the administration had made this decision primarily for financial reasons, and if donations were so important that they were willing to not stick to an ethical reputation, then I was concerned about continuing to associate myself,” Ash said. “I resigned my position on the Office Alumni Board, which I’ve held since 2005, and I made it known that I was disappointed.”
Ash is more concerned with Parscale’s involvement in a scandal than with politics.
“He is under investigation for perhaps doing things that are illegal or unethical, and this can have negative repercussions for Trinity,” Ash said. “I probably wouldn’t have blinked if he had been invited to speak on campus, but it is different to have someone as a guest speaker than to have them endorsed by the university as an example of what Trinity’s education could help you be.”
Students also reacted to the video.
Kezia Nyarko, community chair of Black Student Union and president of Trinity Diversity Connection, perceived the situation as a double standard.
“The Activism Fair happened this semester after black students specifically were disappointed in the lack of response to police brutality, and a lot of the response we’ve gotten is ‘We don’t want to pick a side and alienate people,’ and now seeing the administration represent someone like this is interesting,” Nyarko said.
Nyarko felt that Trinity takes controversial opinions of figures like Milo Yiannopoulos too lightly.
“They’re like, ‘We want to have diverse thoughts on campus,’ but if those thoughts are hurting people’s lives, then that’s not what I want to see on my campus,” Nyarko said.
Junior Luke Ayers appreciated the release of the video.
“I thought that it was really cool how Trinity prepares students to be very influential at a higher rate than other schools because of our values as a liberal arts university,” Ayers said. “Trinity prepares you to be creative, to think out-of-the-box and to be successful no matter who you are or who you work for.”
Ayers sees the conflict as beneficial.
“Whenever someone is put up like this as an example of what Trinity can prepare you to do — because it’s in the realm of politics — it’s going to make someone mad,” Ayers said. “We’re a diverse student body, and we can use that to improve all of our perspectives, and Trinity does that spectacularly.”
Coody-Anders said that Trinity releasing the video wasn’t intended to endorse a political belief, only to spotlight an alumni receiving attention, good or bad.
“I have personal opinions about Brad’s work and the campaign he’s running, but I have the responsibility at the university to assure that critical discourse is allowed to take place, and that alumni, students, faculty or administrations who have something newsworthy or worthwhile to talk about are given their fair opportunity to do so,” Coody-Anders said.
Despite staying neutral in her professional role, Coody-Anders is glad to see Trinity’s community engage in debate.
“It’s not my role to shut down or prevent discourse from taking place, but I’m proud to see students, alumni and faculty say after the fact, ‘We should absolutely talk about this,’ and talk about the who, the how, the why, and that should be an open discussion,” Coody-Anders said.
In the future, Coody-Anders said that Trinity will attach a disclaimer before videos clarifying that there is no intention of promoting the speakers or the beliefs of the speakers though the video.