Through the Looking Glass: A Different Reflection

by Gisele Phalo | 10/30/14 7:45pm

10.31.14.mirror.TTLG_Kate-Herrington
by Kate Herrington / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Whether you are into it or not, this thought has crossed each and everyone’s mind in one way or another at some point during their Dartmouth career. By sophomore year, it becomes a burning hot topic, making the question more exciting for some, and increasingly harder to avoid for others.

“Are you rushing this term?”

This question, along with its variants, waits for an answer that can conjure labels with various preconceived notions of a sorority or fraternity. You see it in the reaction on someone’s face whether or not he or she feels comfortable giving you the answer. Maybe it is because, ideally, no one wants his or her identity and reputation to be summed up in a combination of Greek letters — or lack thereof. At the same time, no short answer to a question like this exists if you yearn for an identity outside the Greek system. But one time, I think I came close.

“Yup, I am rushing this term!” I told a friend as we sat together at FoCo one night.

“Oh yeah?” my friend questioned, with a look of surprise and amusement. “Which sorority?”

“Coed actually,” I corrected her. “Delta Omega Chi.”

It took her a moment to realize that I was jokingly referring to the Dartmouth Outing Club, or DOC.

Every incoming class gets the chance to experience the outdoors during first-year trips with the DOC. I remember the experience vividly. Sitting on the lawn of Robinson Hall with my rental equipment and my newly acquainted trippees, I was excited and scared at the same time.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, coming to Dartmouth was a big step for me. Most of the people in my neighborhood did not have the slightest clue that this college even existed. I had never done anything related to the outdoors, and I felt silly for not knowing the purpose of half the equipment I had just taken from the Robo basement. By the end of it all, however, I fell in love with the Lodge. I had two wonderful trip leaders. I slept for the first time under the stars.

It did not take long for me to realize that the extreme openness and friendliness of the “Trips World” was not as prominent on campus as I had expected. As my first fall term went on, I found it hard to find a niche or a place that felt like home, despite the big “Welcome Home ’17s!” that colored my imagination the first time I stepped in front of the Hopkins Center. I did not think that things would get better.

My first Cabin and Trail meeting of freshman winter changed everything.

I was captivated by the introductions and loved the trip descriptions and trip reports. I could not believe that people were willing to come together in this basement every Monday at 10 p.m. to talk about the outdoors. I barely knew half of the mountains that were mentioned during the meeting and could not believe that they were all just a van ride away from being summited. I was hooked. My first Cabin and Trail trip was an overnight cross-country skiing trip at Great Bear Cabin. It was ridiculously easy to sign up for, and only $5 was charged to my DA$H to pay for snacks. I loved the sound of the cramp ons attached to the bottom of my hiking boots, crunching into the snow. One of the leaders helped me put on my skis for the first time, and it reminded me of Trips all over again. I was sad to leave the next day, but I felt excited for the next Monday to give out the trip report. I had no idea at the time that this trip would be one of many.

I kept going to the meetings, and I began to meet more and more people who were outside of my major, residence hall and normal way of thinking. By freshman spring, I was obsessed with the outdoors and discovered and explored my own trails around campus at least once a week.

When my second fall term finally came around, I spent some time debating whether I should rush. But I realized that a big reason for being part of the Greek system is to connect with people whom you probably would not meet otherwise. I was already doing that with the DOC. I was surprised that other people in my class felt this way, too — we all wanted to connect with people and be in a social circle that did not necessarily involve such exclusivity or pressure to drink.

There are many people both in and outside of my class who still do not feel as though they have found their home at Dartmouth. What if it could be somewhere in the DOC?

Identifying myself as part of the DOC has helped me move forward in trying to make it a better place for others who were like me just a year ago, confused about having a sense of place and yearning for a space to connect with others who share a common bond in something, whether hiking the White Mountains on the weekend or building something at a student workshop.

At the end of the day, we all want to feel that we belong somewhere and that we can be around people who are willing to do things together, even if it requires us to make fun of ourselves. This fall term I was elected as the group’s “fun chair.” I am in charge of the main event or an activity that promotes social bonding after every meeting on Monday night. I now know what things people want to stay up late for and I have the chance to help foster a positive and uplifting spirit within Cabin and Trail that goes beyond a meeting and mountain summits. It has taught me how rewarding it can be to work together with others to make the DOC community more open to anyone.

It was nice opening up my blitz after missing my first meeting of the term and seeing the subject line “Where were you? You were surely missed at the meeting!” That’s when I understood how important the DOC is to me, because I am important to the DOC.