Waters: What is DOC First-Year-Trips?

Trips 2019 matters to the Dartmouth community.

by Madeleine Waters | 3/5/19 2:05am

What is Trips? That’s a big question. Trips is, among other things, an entirely student-run program, a chance to welcome first-years to Dartmouth, a challenge, a community, an unrealized dream, the reason I personally chose Dartmouth and a logistical endeavor requiring over 3,214 eggs.

So let’s break it down, beginning with its fundamental identity as a first-year outdoor orientation program. In the broadest sense, the purpose of the Trips program is to introduce and welcome new students, firstly to Dartmouth, and secondly to New Hampshire’s woods, mountains and rivers.  

Throughout my college career, each of these spaces and the people who build communities around them have variously challenged, accepted, hurt and empowered me. I have been driven to anxiety attacks from missing answers in drill for Spanish II, had asthma attacks hiking up Franc Ridge for the first time and taken classes that leave me feeling confident in my career choice with professors who make me feel confident in myself. I have felt unspeakably lonely, and I have made friends I will hold dear for the rest of my life. 

My experiences have not been particularly straightforward or easy, but nevertheless I would describe myself as one of the “success stories.” I will be able to stand up at the Lodj and give a talk about how I started my freshman fall having been rejected from every club I tried out for, which is also how I wound up regularly attending Ledyard councils and social events, ultimately entering one of the communities that has been most impactful for me. I could talk about how even in Ledyard, I was self-conscious about my lack of whitewater kayaking abilities, but how this pushed me to pursue canoeing and even plan my own expeditions. Not everyone can say the same.

Incredible logistical undertaking notwithstanding, the hardest thing about First-Year Trips as an outdoor orientation program is that both Dartmouth and the wider outdoors are spaces that historically have not been welcoming or even accessible to most individuals who are not wealthy, able-bodied white cisgender men. While I do think that Dartmouth and other communities centered on exploring the outdoors are improving in this regard, there are individuals in the Class of 2019, and there will be individuals in the Class of 2023, who will not be able to say they have found their space at Dartmouth, who will never discover a new appreciation for the outdoors, or maybe even both. That is the unfortunate reality, and it leads to criticisms that the Trips program offers a false welcome, a veneer of community and kooky friendliness that will evaporate by the second week of fall term.  

So let’s ask the hard question: 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?

Here’s the thing. As students, hundreds of years of history and institutionalized systems of prejudice are not under our immediate, direct control — but the mechanisms of Trips itself are. The Trips program is a place where students can impact and shape, not just the experiences of the incoming class, but their relationship to Dartmouth and the outdoors. As with the new waste-sorting sustainability curriculum implemented for Trips 2018 (the brainchild of Kate Salamido ’19), Trips provides a chance for students to take charge and be mindful of the effect they have on the world around them, whether the matter of consideration is environmental or social. Trips is an opportunity to make changes that proactively ease the way into Dartmouth for students of all backgrounds, as demonstrated by the initiative this year to provide registration information to the families of incoming students in multiple languages, spearheaded by Cris Cano ’20. Trips has existed for 89 years in 89 different iterations, growing and changing and falling short and striving to be better — all under the direction of students like me, like you and like the thousand-plus ’23s who will go on Trips this year.  

Trips is not perfect. It’s not instant-magic-just-add-trippees community. It’s big, it takes work and it has so much potential because Trips is fully the sum of its parts. Every volunteer who brings their personal experience, their ideas, their abilities and their goals makes Trips better. Every person who recalls the name of someone they just met and continues to wave “hi” around campus makes this community stronger. Every first-year who remembers the efforts and testimonials of their Trips volunteers, who enters Dartmouth feeling connected and empowered to pay it forward and keep working toward positive change makes the future brighter. This is what Trips is. This is what we can do.

Waters is the 2019 Trips Director. Cano is a member of The Dartmouth staff.

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