During the weekend of Oct. 23, seven students went on a Davidson Outdoors trip that focused on engaging in a dialogue about race in America and at Davidson. The three leaders and four participants backpacked and camped in the mountains of western North Carolina. They structured their conversations on a Intergroup Dialogue Model.
Brian Parker ‘15, the Davidson Outdoors Intern this semester, had the original idea to add an extra element to a Davidson Outdoors weekend trip. “I was interested in the idea of taking what I love about outdoor trips in general and adding this activist element to it,” Parker explained. “And this made sense because the climate around race on college campuses in America so often feels stifled and compressed, sometimes it helps to first get people out of their routines and comfort zones.”
As a student at Davidson, Parker was a founding member of the student initiate for academic diversity and was involved with Davidson Outdoors.
The group is quick to express its gratitude for the help they received from the Multicultural Affairs Office, who made the trip possible. Dr. Tae-Sun Kim, Director of Multicultural Affairs, provided resources to prepare for the dialogue. The trip is one of several collaborative projects that have occurred between Davidson Outdoors and her office this semester.
Parker, Aly Dove ‘16 and Meron Fessehaye ‘16, the trip leaders, all agreed that this trip accomplished a lot of what they had hoped. Fessehaye described some of the achieved goals as, “bridging the gap in finding the space for real and deep dialogue on race. Also making room for the people of color in the very white space that is not necessarily just Davidson Outdoors but the experience of experiencing the outdoors.”
When planning this trip, group leaders decided to use an intergroup model. The model “brings people into the room with different lived experiences and tries to foreground our personal experiences and identities as part of the process,” according to Parker. Fessehaye added that in this model, “there is no room for people to be silent.” This approach allowed for the participants to be more equally involved than in a different approach that they might have chosen.
As a result of using this model, Parkersaid, “It really got me thinking more about the importance of dialogue spaces in order to bring people together in a more sustained and meaningful way.” He also added that this approach includes “a whole other element of mutual trust.”
Fessehaye explained that the trip “allowed me an air of optimism that I think as a senior I’ve kind of lost. I’ve always taken pride in the fact that Davidson is on the right side of change and there are avenues and platforms to have really tough conversations, but sometimes I do not see those happen as much as I’d like, particularly with white students getting outside of their comfort zone. We made an active effort to make sure white students were not remaining silent as a form of non-engagement.”
Dove and Fessehaye will both be graduating in the spring, and Parker will finish his internship this semester. In the hope for future trips, Dove mentioned that there are underclassmen trip leaders that have expressed interest in leading a similar Davidson Outdoors weekend.
Davidson Outdoors received feedback from the weekend as to how it can improve if this kind of trip is organized again. According to Dove, the feedback includes “incorporating more skills driven training. Davidson Outdoors historically has been, and is currently, a space coded in whiteness. Many of our participants of color wanted more outdoor skills instruction, which makes me wonder why DO has remained a predominately white space, and begs the question of how we can begin to cultivate a space for students of color interested in participating in, and learning about, outdoor recreation. This trip serves as a first step in creating such a space, but, more importantly, it calls attention to the need for more trips like these in the future.”
“It was a pilot program,” Fesseyhaye said of the trip. “It was successful in the fact that we did accomplish our main goal of breaking the ice and bridging those two goals I mentioned earlier.”