Huebner: Making Trips Better

First-Year Trips has seen positive changes, but more improvement is needed.

by Julia Huebner | 9/12/17 12:35am

As a volunteer for Dartmouth’s First-Year Trips program, I would often joke with co-volunteers that Trips runs like a well-oiled machine. A million logistical nightmares are averted by tightly adhering to daily schedules and deferring to time-honored protocol. Many upperclassmen look fondly on the traditions that the ’21s have just been indoctrinated into: Being greeted in Hanover by students in bewildering outfits, dancing to “Everytime We Touch,” enjoying Annie’s macaroni and cheese and laughing at the antics of Dr. Schlitz in “Schlitz on Mount Washington” after a warm meal at the “Lodj.”

These rituals can make Trips feel like a cultish institution that functions on a tradition-infused autopilot with little room for forward-thinking changes. But the reality is Trips changes regularly, and 2017’s program leadership invested a huge amount of time in recognizing and taking the appropriate steps to better Trips for first-year students.

The most obvious change to this year’s Trips program was the relocation of the culmination of Trips from the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge to the Dartmouth Ski Lodge while the former was under construction. Trips coordinators had to rewrite travel itineraries for each trip, reorganize all programming for the new space and write a new dinner menu for “trippees” to enjoy. Despite the constant rethinking of lodge protocol, volunteers appeared as delighted as ever as they danced and sang their way while serving corn and clearing bowls.

Subtler improvements were enacted to make Trips a more welcoming, diverse, and genuine experience for trippees. Directorate members took steps to combat two major criticisms: that Trips lacks diversity of race and experience, making the program unrepresentative of the incoming class, and that Trips does not prepare students for the post-Trips culture of Dartmouth, making the post-Trips transition to Dartmouth all the lonelier.

Trips director Doug Phipps ’17 wrote in an email that the diversification of the Trips volunteer body was one of the “biggest goals” of the Trips leadership team this year. Racial and class diversity, Phipps wrote, “has been one of the DOC’s and Trips’ most obvious failings in previous years.” Outreach coordinators helped recruit a diverse group of leaders without tokenizing people of color. Racial breakdown of this year’s Trips volunteers ran closer to that of the larger Dartmouth student body and was substantially more diverse than Trips’ 2016 volunteer pool.

The directorate also strove to overcome class barriers by reducing out-of-pocket costs for trip leaders. This year, a meal support program of one breakfast or lunch DDS swipe per day was available for volunteers between the end of their volunteer obligations and the first day of campus meal plans. In the future, Trips should completely meet the needs of volunteers so that no one needs to financially support their work. In addition to the meal assistance program, smaller out-of-pocket costs, like trinkets and accessories designed to bond individual trips, were also subsidized this year. Directorate offered free colored bandanas. This, too, was a good start; however, money to fund trip leader-inspired pranks were still self-funded by leaders. Ideally, trip leaders should be able to take advantage of a small, $5-$10 stipend so that surprises are available for all trippees.

The directorate also questioned and broke the assumed gender binary of trip leader pairings, arranging eight trips with two female leaders. The change both rejected the idea of a gender binary, Phipps said, and in the past Trips has seen “more female applicants and higher scoring female applicants, and it’s unfair to put those people at a disadvantage.” Implementation of female-female parings required careful consideration. Male speciality croo members interacted heavily with female-only Trip leaders, Phipps said.

The program took steps to lessen the veneer of perfection and constant bliss that volunteers, particularly “croo” members, can exude. H-croo, the croo on which I worked, replaced a Dr. Seuss bedtime story with individual “Lev Talks”: three five-minute speeches per night by individual croo members reflecting on their apprehensions when starting college. Trips partnered with Dartmouth’s Student Wellness Center, providing trippees journals in which students can reflect, though some questioned the usefulness of the journals. In future years, the Wellness Center might create a verbal group reflection activity or redesigned journal for trippees.

Not all ideas for improvement were enacted this year. In future years, Trips could take meaningful steps to make introverted trippees feel more comfortable during their first days at Dartmouth while exuding the warm welcome that the pre-orientation is so well-known for.