'I don’t care how you dance’: First-Year Trips maintains traditions, grows

While many aspects of Trips have evolved over time, some have been part of the program for decades.

by Lauren Adler | 8/31/22 5:25am

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by Paula Mendoza / The Dartmouth

This article is featured in the 2022 Freshman special issue.

Since the program began nearly 90 years ago, First-Year Trips has become a quintessential experience for incoming freshmen, helping to bond generations of Dartmouth students. But while Trips may be one of the best examples of a shared Dartmouth experience, that experience has changed greatly over the decades as the program evolved. Even in recent years, Trips has implemented broad programming and logistical changes — making it look completely different than it did just a few years ago.

“I think we have gotten lots of flexibility and freedom coming off a couple years where we haven’t run Trips in the way that it’s looked in the past, which gives us a lot of freedom to move things around how we like,” First-Year Trips director Jack Kreisler ’22 said. “I think that is honestly a really big advantage for us — that we can make big changes.”

One of the most notable recent changes to Trips programming is the addition of the Skiway Lodge to many trips. Prior to the pandemic, every trip would spend the night at the Moosilauke Lodge, but beginning last year, trips are now split between the two locations, with half of each trip section staying overnight at each lodge.

“It’s really cool to allow more opportunities for students to make connections to different places Dartmouth touches around the Upper Valley, and I think the Dartmouth Skiway has been a really impactful space for a lot of people,” Kellen Appleton ’20, First-Year Trips program coordinator for the Outdoor Programs Office and a former Trips director, said.

Kreisler and First-Year Trips associate director Brandon Zhou ’22 noted that in addition to several advantages presented by the Skiway Lodge — such as a large dining space, a convenient open area for dancing and its proximity to campus — incorporating a second overnight lodge location allows Trips to accommodate more students at once.

Because there will be only four Trips sections this year, there will be roughly 250 Trippees and their trip leaders per section — which “means that the [Moosilauke Lodge] just can’t accommodate that many people, for dinner or for the overnight,” Zhou said. 

Cutting down the number of sections from recent years — there were 10 sections of Trips as recently as 2019 — will also allow Trippees in earlier sections to meet a more diverse group of incoming students, according to Zhou. When the Trips program was held with more sections over a longer period of time, students who lived nearby in New England would be assigned to earlier trips and then return home once their groups arrived back in Hanover, not officially moving into their dorms until a few days later.

“Back in the day, Section A was basically just people from just outside of Boston, and they saw a very different Dartmouth from what really is Dartmouth,” Zhou said, noting that this is one of the changes he is “really excited about.”

Zhou said that cutting down the number of sections will also benefit students who participate in pre-orientation programs, such as international, Native and Indigenous or FYSEP students. An international student from Canada himself, Zhou said that his trip section was composed mostly of students in these programs, but with fewer and larger trip sections, these students will be more spread out and therefore able to meet other students who did not participate in the same programs.

The ability to accommodate an increasingly large number of students has become an important aspect of Trips logistics, as the popularity of the program grew rapidly. According to College archivist Peter Carini, the first round of Trips, held in 1935, hosted only about 30 students, but by the 1970s, about 50% of the incoming class participated in the program. 

“It ramps up fairly quickly,” Carini said. “It’s even much quicker from the ’70s to the 2000s.”

According to Provost David Kotz ’86, who was the director of Trips in 1985, by the 1980s, “well over 80%, and maybe 90%” of incoming students participated in the Trips program, with some notable exceptions being the football team and students with long-running summer internships. 

Kotz said that when he worked on Trips, the program sought to ensure that all interested students would be able to participate, even as it expanded rapidly. For example, Kotz said that Trips began to offer financial aid opportunities such as free gear rentals. He also noted that while he was Trips director, he spent much of his time planning to make Trips accessible to a student in a wheelchair.

“We really tried hard to encourage and enable everyone to go,” he said.

This attitude reflects a major shift from the original Trips, which rather than welcoming a broad array of incoming students, were mainly intended to enable the DOC — which was facing declining membership —  to recruit outdoorsy students from the moment they set foot on campus. Carini said that the Trips of the 1930s were only hiking and camping trips, but by the 1970s, the DOC had also introduced biking and canoe trips. Today, the Trips program even includes non-outdoor trips, such as one that involves exploring local museums.

“Whether you are hiking somewhere three hours away from here or whether you’re staying very close to campus — like on Museum Exploration, for instance — that matters less to me than the people that you’re spending time with and the connections and relationships you’re able to build with your trippees, with your trip leaders and with croolings,” Kreisler said.

Though the structure and size of Trips have varied over time, some traditions of the program date back decades. For example, Kotz said that one of his favorite memories from when he participated in Trips was hearing the story of Doc Benton — a fabled figure said to live on top of Mount Moosilauke — which is still told today.

Another tradition that has stood the test of time is that of “raids,” which Kotz participated in when he worked on Trips and which Kreisler said are his favorite Trips tradition. During a raid, a small number of “croolings,” or Trips volunteers, will surprise a trip with a funny skit and then lead a small group discussion. 

“I think raids are really amazing because they encapsulate Trips so perfectly, both the part of Trips that just has this outrageous, crazy energy, but also the need to pull that back and be vulnerable and be real people,” Kreisler said. 

One tradition that is slightly newer is Questions from a Hat, also called the “hat game,” in which trippees are able to anonymously place written questions about Dartmouth in a hat for their trip leaders to answer. Kotz said the tradition was not present during his time on Trips, but Appleton said that it was “considered an old thing” when she went on Trips in 2016.

“I distinctly remember feeling a little bit out of place [on my trip]... and one of my trip leaders in particular did a really good job of diffusing that and being really assuring in such a way that we weren’t extremely close friends my first year, but I felt like I had someone in my corner,” Appleton said. “I think Questions from a Hat is really exemplary of that.”

A tradition that has evolved over time is that of dancing on Trips — which Zhou said is his favorite tradition from the program. Some dances, such as the Salty Dog Rag and contra dancing, have been Trips classics for generations; others, like a dance choreographed to Becky G’s “Shower,” were only introduced in 2019.

“I remember being on Trips and being really self-conscious and nervous and being like, ‘what if I don't seem cool dancing? What if people are judging me while I'm dancing?’” Zhou said. “But also I think as I’ve become an upperclassman [and] volunteered for Trips in various ways I’ve realized it’s a really great way for people to let loose and to know that people actually aren’t judging you. I don’t care how you dance. It’s just about having fun together.”

While Carini said he is not sure when the Salty Dog Rag became a part of Trips, he suspects it may have been just after coeducation began at Dartmouth, and he believes that its implementation was “very consciously done” in order to promote further bonding of students on Trips together.

“Many of those traditions were a way to get new students to bond and to acclimate with each other by doing silly stuff that would break down their inhibitions and their worries and their self consciousness,” Carini said. “You get people to come on these trips and they bond together.”

While the program has evolved over the decades, it seems that at least that aspect of Trips has stayed the same.

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