Q&A with Tracie Williams '05

by Berit Svenson | 2/28/18 2:15am

Source: Courtesy of Tracie Williams

Tracie Williams ’05 discovered her love of the outdoors as an undergraduate after participating in a backcountry skiing break trip sponsored by the Outdoor Programs Office. After exploring various jobs related to the outdoors — her field of interest — Williams has returned to the Outdoor Programs Office’s staff to serve as assistant director for leadership and experiential education. Although it is only her fourth week working at the College, she hopes to draw upon her past experience as a student at the College to foster an inclusive community and encourage students to try something new.

What does your position entail?

TW: Largely, this position is trying to get students outdoors. It’s meeting students in the outdoors or seeing students that have an interest in the outdoors, whoever they may be, and trying to figure out ways to get them out there. So far, what I’ve been doing is a lot of student outreach, some of the tedious administrative stuff and I’ve just taken over organizing all the Dartmouth Outing Club physical education classes. A lot of that will be logistics but also coming up with ideas for cool and creative P.E. classes that do not resonate as hardcore outdoors. A lot of the programs that we run might intimidate some students that aren’t already familiar with things like paddling a kayak or canoe or rock climbing.

When I was a student here, I wasn’t involved in the outdoors very much. I joined the DOC after my First-Year Trip but then didn’t feel comfortable within that group because I wasn’t experienced at all. I didn’t have loads of expensive gear and none of them looked like me. I think I have an experience that is potentially relatable to a lot of other students on campus who, even though they really are interested in the outdoors and have that nostalgia for their Trip, are afraid to come in because they don’t have these technical skills. What fuels me to wake up in the morning is connecting with students who don’t know how accessible this department is. I’d like to see more students getting involved in some of our P.E. classes as fulfilling a requirement, then maybe finding their love of a sport or the outdoors. However they get connected with nature, I think it’s never a bad thing.

What was your time at Dartmouth like?

TW: I struggled for sure. I came from an underserved community. I grew up in a Habitat for Humanity house. When I was coming into Dartmouth, I didn’t really know anything about the school. I came in and just saw the amount of wealth, affluence and privilege that was represented in Dartmouth among the students that surrounded me. Some of my best friends already knew what they wanted to do, and I came in just sort of floundering. I was really insecure, and I allowed that to kind of push me out. It’s easy for students who come to campus and sort themselves into sameness again. It was difficult and as an undergraduate, I left Dartmouth for over two years. It transformed my life. When I came back, I saw a sign for a backcountry skiing spring break trip. It was run by a colleague of mine who still works here. I went on the trip and I had the best time of my life. I was unprepared. I had a hodgepodge of different gear that I wasn’t sure was useful, but he talked me through good gear selection. Winter camping in a tent up near Labrador, Canada was a really intense environment, but it was softly and easily led so it didn’t feel like I was in any danger at all. It transformed the way I thought of myself as an outdoorswoman. It gave me a new awareness of my competency. Then, I pursued a profession in the outdoors that consisted of seasonal outdoor work and office jobs such as marketing, advertising and copywriting. I’m just really grateful to have found this position because it’s the culmination of all sorts of experiences.

Why did you enjoy that trip so much?

TW: I had never been backcountry skiing before. When I actually met everybody else who was going to be on my trip — there was a guy from Mauritius, a guy from China — nobody had any experience. It was just hilarious, and I feel like it was fated. If I had been there with people that were really experienced, I don’t know that I would have had a great time. I probably would have felt really insecure the entire time. Instead, I felt like I became a leader because I realized that, even if I didn’t have all the technical skills, I had some knowledge that I was able to impart and a lot that I was able to learn. It was a really diverse and amazing group. I remember the day that everybody showed up, and I felt super confused and relieved at the same time just being like, “This is going to be so much fun because we all get to work together.”

What brought you back to Dartmouth?

TW: Opportunity. I found out that this position was open. It didn’t exist when I was a student here, and I wish that it had. I probably would have found the DOC a lot earlier and found my place at Dartmouth a lot sooner than I did. It would have been nice to have some sort of a liaison between the administration and the students.

What has changed about Dartmouth since you were a student?

TW: Structurally speaking — loads. I think internally, this position speaks volumes for the way that we’re trying to move the College forward. And yes, a big component of that is diversity and inclusion. It’s so strange to me that it’s still a topic of conversation when you think it would just be given that we all learn better from difference. It only serves to enrich our lives. And so at some point in the future the sort of diversity and inclusion aspect of my job will fall away because it won’t be an issue anymore. This is what I’m hoping that we’re pushing toward.

What are some issues with inclusivity in the outdoors?

TW: It’s ongoing. I think that whether we think it or not, the outdoors is already diverse. We were born into this world through an active nature. To claim or to think that any one group has dominion over nature is a really sickening feeling. As far as recreating in nature, I think more needs to be done to reconnect all of us with our natural roots. I think we should also try to change the narrative of what it means to enjoy the outdoors. We should be finding ways for underprivileged communities and individuals that don’t have access to the outdoors and don’t think that they know how to recreate there to find a space in nature for them, because there is a space for everyone.

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