Monday, January 11, 2010

Scene Seven: DPP Retreat

(The frozen surface of Lake Morey. A breeze sharpens the fangs of the biting air. Teams of Dartmouth students attending the Diversity Peer Leadership Program (DPP) weekend retreat race down a smoothed stretch of ice on kicksleds.

Following the advice of my UGA and one of my trip leaders, before winter break I applied to participate in DPP. I delighted at the blitz that informed me I was among the thirty-or-so students chosen. One of the group's goals is to educate the Dartmouth community, students in particular, about diversity and social justice in order to bring about positive changes on campus. But that sounds so abstract, doesn't it? After returning to campus I began to get cold feet about giving what constituted an entire weekend (Friday at 4pm to Sunday at 3pm) to a program about which I knew relatively little.
Would I know anyone? Would it be stuffily academic and PC? Would I learn anything at all? These, and other wonderings, troubled me. That is, until I joined the group in the lobby of the Hop.
I'd just dropped my backpack into a melee of other bags and assumed my "this is rather awkward" posture when a voice rose above a tangle of bodies to my right,
"All Penguins must waddle to the bus!"
The voice belonged to Sharang Biswas, a '12 who, I later learned, had completed training to become a Diversity Peer Adviser; he was one of the facilitators responsible for guiding new DPPers through the weekend's activities and discussions. The group was bisected into Polar Bears and Penguins and encouraged not to interact with members of the other species. "Not very social-justicey," we chuckled.
A thirty-minute bus ride, Hulbert Outdoor Center orientation, and heartfelt rendition of "Baby Got Back" later, we Penguins were hunched over spiral bound notebooks trying to define words like "prejudice," "discrimination," and "-ism." Guided discussions later revealed that our group had a dynamic openness, an implicit trust, that enriched the process with anecdotes and admissions.
Though I was raised in a way that exposed me to people of many faiths, ethnicities, sexual orientations, classes, and abilities, the area in which I grew up was largely lacking the acceptance of diversity that I found here at Dartmouth. In comparison to home, the college seemed like the epitome of unified diversity. A weekend with OPAL staff and DPP facilitators, though, revealed a different campus. From the intrinsic sexism of Dartmouth's Greek system to campus buildings accessible (or inconveniently accessible) to people with disabilities, there are many ways in which our community can by improved that I now recognize.
Attending DPP was an intense, eye-opening experience. Where do I go from here? Hopefully I can train to become a Diversity Peer Adviser, just like Sharang kept us laughing throughout. Hopefully, I can encourage other Dartmouth students to participate as well, just like my friends did for me. Surely, I can begin working on making Dartmouth a safer place for all people.

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