Phipps: The Trips Director Can’t Bike

First-Year Trips can only get more diverse if more people apply.

by Doug Phipps | 3/28/17 12:25am

I don’t know how to bike. You read that correctly — a Director of Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips is not totally sure how to make that two-wheeled monster called a “bicycle” move from point A to point B. My first hike longer than a mile came on the last day of my own first-year trips, which was exceptionally average — until that hike.

I have a storied history with exercise; I was obese for the first 16 years of my life. My body embarrassed me. I went on to lose 100 pounds over the next couple of years, but I always exercised in solitude. Moving my body was a chore — something I had to do but would not do unless my health was at risk.

On the last day of Trips, an opportunity arose: a seven-mile hike at 3 a.m. to see a beautiful sunrise. I could symbolically mark the change from 18 years of insecurity to a future of liberation. I jolted at the first sound of my alarm, tiptoed around the bodies of my sleeping trippees and triumphantly summited Mount Moosilauke. We were faced with an overcast sky, but I didn’t mind — getting myself up a mountain with a group of strangers was enough of a victory.

Even though Trips is an outdoors pre-orientation program, its value is not predicated on outdoor skills. What I love about the program and what has brought me back — from a trippee to a leader, an outreach coordinator and now a director — is how much time, effort and care student volunteers put into making new students feel welcome. Last year, over 350 volunteers spent 81,000 hours of their time volunteering with Trips to welcome roughly 90 percent of ’20s to campus.

Transitioning to the Dartmouth community is a huge challenge for all incoming first-years, but it’s much harder for some than others. While it was a challenge for me to summit Mount Moosilauke, it’s a challenge for some to enter this community at all. Those who come from communities dissimilar to Dartmouth or historically marginalized backgrounds have uniquely difficult obstacles to feeling welcome here compared with those who attended high schools that regularly admitted students to Dartmouth or went to summer camps similar to Trips.

While it was a challenge for me to summit Moosilauke, I never questioned my sense of belonging on Trips because apart from the weight, I shared a lot in common with the people I met. Yet this is not the case for everyone; in past years, Trips volunteers have been roughly 70 percent white, failing to reflect the racial diversity of incoming classes, which are approximately 50 percent white. This critical shortcoming is tied up in the outdoors’ history as a predominantly white space for those who can afford outdoor gear — but we can change this. While we only have metrics for racial diversity, we know observationally that this extends to all kinds of diversity, whether it be sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, geography or even levels of “outdoorsiness.” Shouldn’t the first Dartmouth students first-years meet reflect themselves and give them mentors that identify with their experiences and represent the diversity of the Dartmouth community?

For a tradition from the ’30s, Trips has aged with relative grace into the 21st century, but it has work left to do. For seven years, it had an Outreach Coordinator tasked with attracting a diverse group of volunteers and creating a program that makes all students, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds, feel welcome. This year, Trips is doubling down — literally and figuratively — on these efforts. It now has two Outreach Coordinators to match the bandwidth needed. It’s working out a way to subsidize food for leaders who remain on campus after leading their trips, because volunteering shouldn’t have hidden costs for those who can’t afford it. It has also carefully analyzed and edited the itineraries of trips to make them more accessible.

However, the success of these efforts is largely contingent on one thing: our applicant pool. The 2016 volunteer body was 70 percent white because the applicant pool was, too. It needs diverse applicants so trip leaders and croolings are representative of both the ’21s they are leading and the student body as a whole. As a program that can affect almost the entire student body in providing a shared experience among all Dartmouth students, this is work that Trips is obligated to do. And it can’t do it alone.

Phipps is a member of the class of 2017. He is also a Director of First-Year Trips.

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