First-Year Trips program focuses on inclusivity and identity

by Alice Zhang | 10/26/18 2:20am

by Adrian Russian / The Dartmouth

When alumni come back to Dartmouth for Homecoming, they may be surprised the number of changes that have occurred at the College and in Hanover. They may be astounded by the construction of the Life Sciences Center, the addition of Skinny Pancake in downtown Hanover, the derecognition of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, or the changes in the bonfire tradition within the past year.

One quintessential experience for many Dartmouth students is the Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips program. According to the DOC website, First-Year Trips is designed to “ease [the] transition to college by connecting [students] to [their] class and [their] peers at Dartmouth, who can help [them] define [their] experience and find [their] own sense of place.” Just like the College, First-Year Trips is constantly evolving.

Lucia Pierson ’18 was this past year’s First-Year Trips Director. She commented on the goal of inclusivity for this past year’s Trips.

“The journey that I think Trips is on right now is that we’re trying to be a lot more considerate that even though it started as an outdoor program, it’s now a program that wants to cater to the entire incoming class, regardless of their experience with the outdoors,” Pierson said.

Pierson explains that traditional forms of outdoor experiences can often be exclusive to some, not only in terms of experience required, but also in terms of a student’s socioeconomic background.

“Outdoor athletic activities like hiking, backpacking, climbing [and] kayaking [are] things that are not only … pretty expensive to participate in, but you have to have a lot of accessibility to be able to get out to the woods, to have the free time to do so [and] to have the exposure to be able to do so from a young age,” Pierson said.

Environmental studies professor Terry Osborne is the teacher for Environmental Studies 11, “Humans and Nature in America,” which explores the different ways in which people have viewed nature throughout the course of American history. He, like Pierson, acknowledges many people’s lack of accessibility to some traditional outdoor activities.

“[In the past] it had mostly been assumed that there were certain ways to interact with nature.” Osborne said. “But the closer we look at it, we realize there are many ways that people … connect to the outdoors, especially if one has never had many interactions with nature. To offer that opportunity in ways that feel safe but also boundary stretching … is always beneficial.”

Laura Hutchinson ’19, last year’s Oak Hill Croo Captain, helped facilitate the mountain biking and “adventure quest” trip sections. Though she says that little has changed Oak Hill Croo, she says that recent changes made under the new Trips directorate have impacted those who she works closely with.

According to Hutchinson, the Trips directorate started a meal aid program to reduce the burden on Trip leaders who needed to stay in Hanover, and didn’t have the funds to go home.

Hutchinson believes that such changes have made Trips more open and accessible to those who wish to participate in any capacity.

“Trips is an institution,” Hutchinson said, “so it’s not like we, as a directorate, completely flipped it around on its head … A lot of the work we did was stewarding it and taking a critical lens at who it’s serving and how, and trying to … recenter people [who] it typically has disenfranchised.”

Emma Chiu ’19, the Lodj Croo Captain this past year, remarked on a less tangible change in Trips that aimed to make everyone more aware of the different identities of people at Dartmouth.

Chiu said that there has traditionally been a discussion that takes place during the Trippees’ last day on Trips when they are at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. In 2015, the year that Chiu participated in Trips as a first-year student, the discussion was an open-ended forum in which Trippees asked any questions about Dartmouth that arose. By 2017, it changed so that the discussion became more centered on identity. Chiu said that 2018’s discussion circle remained largely the same, but with a slight change.

“We sent a survey out to campus giving other students the opportunity to anonymously share what they wish other students knew about … [their] identity and the ways in which [they] have experienced Dartmouth,” Chiu said.

In the discussion group, Chiu said, Trippees would read the quotes they gathered in groups, allowing them to more easily voice their concerns about Dartmouth. She said it also gave first-year students an opportunity to relate to something that they could identify with, or learn about the ways in which other people experience Dartmouth.

“If [the Trippees] had a similar concern or worry going into Dartmouth, and they felt uncomfortable to be the person to raise it with other people in their discussion circle or felt it was too heavy of a topic ... there would already be … content there for them,” Chiu said.

Pierson says that another change Trips made to promote well-being and diversity was embedded in the way that trip leaders were trained.

“We’ve been working on developing [a] trip leader training curriculum that talks to trip leaders about how different facets of a Trippee’s identity can impact their experience on Trips and also at Dartmouth,” Pierson said.

Pierson said that the goal of the initiative was for trip leaders to be more prepared to talk to Trippees about those experiences and have conversations about issues with inclusivity. In addition, Pierson said that the directorate instated a mental health training program so that the trip leaders could adequately support Trippees who may have issues with anxiety or other issues regarding their mental health.

“Mental health is a part of health, so if we’re teaching people how to handle first aid and how to help their Trippees physically, they should help them emotionally as well,” Pierson said.

Finally, Pierson said that in an effort to make the idea of getting outside more broad, the directorate added two more Trips: Cabin Camping Performing Arts and Cabin Camping Cooking.

“You don’t have to be doing those athletic, hardcore activities to hang out in nature and have fun,” Pierson said. “One shouldn’t be considered less than the other.”

Pierson believes that the point of Trips isn’t just to create a welcoming, fun and inclusive environment for first-year students, but also to show them how many members of the Dartmouth community care about their experience.

“Mentorship is such a huge part of the program,” Pierson remarked, “[but] I would say that love is the center core of the program. Obviously, the outdoors is important too, and that’s a great … setting to put that love, but the love that creates the program is the foundation. Otherwise, it would just be camping trips, and that’s not what Trips is.”

Chiu is a former member of The Dartmouth Senior Staff.