Q&A with Rory Gawler '05

by Paulomi Rao | 7/27/17 11:30pm

Rory Gawler ’05 found his passion for the outdoors during orientation weekend of his freshman year at Dartmouth. As the current assistant director of outdoor programs, Gawler has found working with students the most important part of his job and Robinson Hall to be a symbol on campus for community and family.

As an ’05, what did the term “Dartmouth family” mean to you?

RG: One of the most interesting things about graduating in ’05 was that I showed up for First-Year Trips when September 11 happened, and I think that was a wake up call for the whole country and the world. For us, it was a bit of a transition point in our lives, and a little bit of “seize the day.” We are all the protagonists in our own stories, but it did seem like our class really did seize the day and take leadership roles in a lot of things and were particularly active, especially in the outing club.

Why Dartmouth?

RG: I came here because of the [Dartmouth Outing Club]. I’m from Toronto and I was bored to tears in the city, but I went to summer camp in the summers. When it became clear that I could go to school here, I was very excited. I showed up during orientation week and bought a lifetime membership for the outing club. Interestingly enough, I did not actually find my place in the outing club until freshman spring. But at some point, I went on a hike with Cabin and Trail and went to a woodsmen’s meet, and realized that was my home there.

And your experience with community in the DOC?

RG: For me, I didn’t particularly enjoy hiking, but I enjoyed canoeing. At that time, the Canoe Club did a lot of white water kayaking, so initially I didn’t know my place. I eventually sort of figured out that Cabin and Trail was more than just hiking — it was cabin maintenance, trail work, camping and the woodsmen’s team, which were really fun aspects of [Cabin and Trail]. The thing that really hooked me was the community. I found some friends just hanging out in Robinson Hall, eating lunch in Room 13, and just knowing that you can go to a physical place and, without having to make plans, you can drop in and see people there that you know and can hang out with. It’s a low key, spontaneous drop in kind of atmosphere. I suspect that’s what makes a lot of the sororities and fraternities successful, and I think it’s what makes the outing club and Ravine Lodge so successful — just being able to swing into Robinson and hang out for ten minutes just because I had the time.

Robinson is such a special place on campus for many students. What does it mean to you?

RG: That’s a lot of the reason why I have an office right off the hallway, which connects me with students. It’s logistically and conveniently very useful, and working with students is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It the best part of my job and I just love the students in the outing club.

Are there specific outdoor events in the DOC that are geared towards community building?

RG: I think that all of the events are about social ties and about community building. I think outdoor activity is a medium upon which we build relationships, and I happen to think it’s one of the better ones. It’s hard to build meaningful relationships doing something passive, like watching a movie together or watching TV together, and I think it’s really damaging to build social relationships through binge drinking. But I think it is really excellent, healthy and awesome to build those relationships doing wholesome outdoor activity, building life, leadership and confidence skills and building those social bonds between each other

Many of the programs at the DOC are student-let, do you feel like this makes the DOC unique?

RG: I think the outing club has been a huge community for people, and I often refer to it as the core of the alternative social scene on campus. I think other than the Greek system, it is the most significant community on campus, and it’s a healthy and wholesome thing to do. There are some students, the lifers, who go to class, do the DOC, and that’s it. They are here every day, and I see them and I know them all. There are a lot of students who come to do a couple things but have other stuff going on, and there are students who will do one outing club trip in their whole lives, and that’s fine too. We do a lot of talking about being inclusive and welcoming here in the outing club, and I think the students work hard to make it happen. There’s also value to being an organization that has quirks and inside jokes, that has culture and all of those things. While they are trying really hard to be inclusive, those things can seem not welcoming. But the club is trying really hard to find a balance between those things. For my peers, the ones that I had the most meaningful relationships with were all part of the outing club. When they came, we did a bunch of outing club type stuff together, we had a great time, and then they went home. And I think we would all consider that as feeling like a family.

What’s one of your favorite experiences with the DOC?

RG: I think one of the neatest things I got to do with the outing club was build a cabin: the Class of ’66 Lodge. I spent a lot of time out there, and the experience of building the cabin was amazing — doing something with my hands, building something beautiful that will last and people will appreciate, but for me, that was never the best part. The best part was being with a group of people who were working hard to accomplish a common goal. And I think that kind of experience builds a type of relationship that you just can’t get any other way, and I think that’s why people value team sports, projects, and why, when you are at a work place, working with a team is important. Because working as a team towards a common goals is hardwired into our genetics, that’s what we should be doing, and it feels very satisfying and important. Those types of bonds and memories, you just can’t get any other way. If I had to pick what the purpose of life was, it would be building relationships with people, and the DOC is one of the best ways to do it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.