We catch up with Yohan Dumpala, 2020-2021 student co-head for the Faculty of Divinity and Master of Divinity student, on life inside and outside the College.
1. As student co-head for the Faculty of Divinity, what was your experience like over the past year, and what are you looking forward to as you take on the role as sole head for the 2021-2022 academic year?
The past year (2020-2021) was a year to remember for all students as we attempted to constantly pivot through ever-changing protocols and expectations on an academic, municipal, and provincial basis. In particular, the Faculty of Divinity, with many of its students residing outside of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), was able to quickly adapt to new, and in some cases, improved, pedagogy.
As the world was attempting to understand COVID-19, like many at Trinity, R. Susan Smandych (co-head, 2020-2021) and I were also forced back to the drawing board several times to re-imagine Fall 2020’s orientation. We had high hopes that we would have in-person sessions; however, it ended up being a completely virtual event, save for a Pub Night that students and faculty attended before lockdown orders. Though we were unsure whether a virtual event would be just as good as being in-person, we quickly realized the vast benefits we were gaining. In the past, all orientation events were conducted in-person, which left out a significant portion of our student body. Those students who could not make it to the events and those who lived outside of the GTA were generally excluded. COVID changed all of that by providing us with some tools and a “eureka” moment, ensuring that all students could attend any events we put together.
Though this past year was complex, it allowed Susan and me to attain new skills in videography, photography, and editing. Through hours spent watching YouTube videos on how to use a DSLR camera and Premiere Pro (editing software), we put together several videos for Orientation Week with the support of Dean Brittain. We hope to put together such videos again for Orientation Week—Fall 2021. We used these new skills again for our recent Divinity Alumni Conference, which was attended virtually.
This past academic year was quite challenging to cope with especially as we all began to feel the effects of Zoom-fatigue, the lack of access to the Graham Library due to provincial restrictions, and other pandemic-related changes. To respond, Susan and I put together events that allowed for the community, both students and staff, to meet virtually for a time of prayer and meditation. As a student body, we pray that all students and staff, and their families, continue to persevere through this pandemic.
As sole head of Divinity for 2021-2022, I look forward to welcoming a cohort of new and returning Divinity students to Trinity College. Though I fervently hope that restrictions ease so that we may meet once again in person, we will also ensure that any events at Trinity will be live-streamed to honour our fight for inclusivity. As co-president of the Toronto School of Theology (TST) Roundtable, I also look forward to working alongside my peers from the other six TST colleges as we prepare for two ecumenical services, which will take place in the fall and winter semesters.
2. Can you share your experience as a member of the Trinity Task Force on Anti-Black Racism and Inclusion?
As someone who identifies as a POC (Person of Colour), when asked by Provost Moran if I would be willing to be a part of the task force I immediately said yes, not quite knowing what to expect. As a team, we hit the ground running. We took a deep dive into all the present and historical matters that contribute(d) to an environment where students feel or felt marginalized.
As someone from the Faculty of Divinity looking in on matters that seemed specific to undergraduate life on campus, I had more questions than answers about the specific structures at Trinity that existed, which prevented inclusivity. As someone raised in India, who lived for a time in Saudi Arabia and immigrated to Canada in 2010, I was no stranger to racism or exclusion.
We have a long way to go as a society where racism is concerned. However, I hope that the recommendations that the Task Force made on Anti-Black Racism and Inclusion will, in some small way, create an environment where all students and staff feel welcome, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.
3. Earlier this year, you and your Divinity co-head, R. Susan Smandych, proposed a roundtable discussion for the Toronto School of Theology about racism and inclusion within the theological community. Can you share any highlights?
Susan and I talked about the origin of the TST Roundtable and why we thought it was important to start the conversation with our theological community. [Editor’s note: Read more on the Roundtable here.]
As co-president of the TST Roundtable for 2021-2022, and working alongside co-president Lauren (Lo) Lynn (senior student, Wycliffe College), I hope to revisit this subject with a new ecumenical panel in the winter semester of 2022. The Christian Church, regardless of denomination, needs to address racism from a broader perspective and take action. And as someone who is called to ordained ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, I hope to witness such a transformation. The discovery of 215 children in an unmarked graveyard in Kamloops this spring is another reminder of how we have failed God’s creation. Racism, bias and hate should have no place in the Church.
4. What is happening at the College right now that excites you?
Like many returning non-resident students, the hope that we may be able to see our beautiful campus once again is exciting. As a Master of Divinity student, part of the curriculum requires me to attend regular worship services in the Trinity Chapel. Unfortunately, during the pandemic that has not been possible; however, I hope to worship once again in such a beautiful space with my peers as I enter my final year.
Due to the generosity of the Divinity class, which consists of all registered Divinity students, and with the support of the Very Rev. Fr. Geoffrey Ready (Co-Director, Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College), we are in the process of commissioning an Icon for Orthodox worship service. We are also in the process of purchasing an altar cloth as well as other materials for Anglican worship services with the support and guidance of the Humphrys Chaplain, the Rev. Andrea Budgey.
Another point of excitement is that the Faculty of Divinity is currently preparing for Orientation Week, whatever form it may eventually take. This is a highlight of the College, and I hope to be a part of welcoming both new and returning students, Divinity and Arts & Sciences, as they embark on or return to this wonderful journey.
5. In your work as a youth minister in a Toronto community, what are the key challenges you’ve seen young people facing, and how can the Trinity community help?
Being a youth minister has been such a blessing in my life as I build relationships with individuals who are figuring out who they are, what they believe, and how they see themselves as part of this complex world we live in. This pandemic has made it difficult for most of them as they have had to be without physical, social interactions for months on end, which has taken a toll on their mental well-being. I am incredibly proud of the youth under my supervision who have done exceptionally well in not only persevering through the most challenging parts of this pandemic but who have also stepped up in support of one another.
The rise of mental health cases in cities like Toronto, Markham (where I minister) and elsewhere since the beginning of this pandemic indicates that more must be done to provide support to those most vulnerable in our communities. Those marginalized in our communities are, however, going through harsher circumstances than we are in Markham. If the community at Trinity College would like to help in any way, I would ask that you donate to an initiative called Faith Works and of course to CAMH (the Canadian Mental Health Association) in support of their tireless work.
6. Bonus question: What are you most looking forward to this summer?
At Grace Church in Markham, we have opened a community recording studio called Parkway Av. Studio, and we are set to officially open in September. As a musician, I look forward to seeing local talents of all ages and walks of life either get their start in music or simply create something extraordinary. I am also looking forward to in-person church events, restaurant patios opening, and opportunities for some landscape photography. I pray that we all have a safe and memorable summer.
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As published in the Living Trinity Alumni electronic newsletter June 2021