Hill-Weld: Lasting Journeys

Trips is great, as long as we don’t forget its lessons.

by Teddy Hill-Weld | 3/28/19 2:20am

At the end of the winter term, 2019 Trips Director Madeleine Waters wrote an excellent piece detailing the upsides and shortcomings of this potentially magical yet simultaneously alienating orientation program. The crucial question she asks is this: “What can an orientation program accomplish if its job is to welcome people into spaces where they do not see lasting evidence that they are welcome?” While I have never been a Trip leader and periodically regret that decision, a number of friends who have joined found themselves frustrated and disillusioned — a stark contrast with the optimism expressed by many in charge of the program. For these students, the presentation of a convivial, homogenous community at the beginning of their Dartmouth experiences was not representative of their time spent navigating campus.

Trips paints a picture of Dartmouth as a fun-loving, easygoing, non-stop outdoor adventure. And while it certainly can be fun-loving, life on campus is often more taxing than easygoing, and it’s really more fun-simulating than it is actually concerned with the pursuit of fulfillment. Learning dances with a bunch of equally-disoriented freshmen is probably the most unified any of us will ever be with such a large percentage of our class, and that realization can be a source of serious frustration and disillusionment. Director Waters’ description of “unspeakable” loneliness is probably familiar to a great deal of us. It is hard to see so much energy being put into an invigorated communal experience like Trips when we will inevitably encounter so many spaces where we wish we could see that energy put to a more crucial use.

Being a part of Trips isn’t indicative of a broader social orientation; just because someone chooses to lead a trip, that doesn’t guarantee that they will take that principle of hospitality into the rest of their Dartmouth life. Wouldn’t that welcoming model accomplish a lot more good if it were distributed throughout our time at Dartmouth rather than artificially packed into the beginning? Dartmouth is far more of an ignore-it-and-party, study, work-through-the-pain kind of space than it is an embracing community. We go out three or more times a week, play sports, join clubs, do research, take classes, volunteer on campaigns, work multiple jobs and undertake a host of other pursuits that leave little time for self-reflection and self-care, let alone time to care for people we barely know. Students who don’t integrate themselves with ease into the Dartmouth lifestyle find themselves in a giant pinball machine, slapping them through an endless cycle of extracurriculars through which people may engage each other over common interests. None of this ever comes close to resembling the Trips model of welcoming — that kind of structure doesn’t exist anywhere else on campus.

There is no unconditional hospitality at Dartmouth. There are no communal spaces that will embrace you without qualification or expectation of assimilation, none that are fully on board with embracing the complexity of each individual and the ways that our experiences will inevitably not line up with one another as we navigate this campus. Dartmouth predetermines our interactions. We engage with people for a purpose, rarely just due to the virtue of their existence. Through Trips, we pretend to solve that problem; we pretend that Dartmouth is a universally welcoming community where anyone and everyone can fit in with ease. What I’m getting at isn’t that Trips itself he problem — the problem is that somewhere along the line, we forget how it all began and let ourselves slip back into complacency. Trips is a good program. It embraces a model of unconditional hospitality to which we should all aspire. But we cannot allow ourselves to forget this crucial idea — Trips is the beginning, not the end, of our aspiration to create a truly communal and supportive Dartmouth experience.