What Scramble Did You Go On?

Gavin Victor, Columnist

Here at Whitman, everybody gets asked this question, especially during their first year. Pre-orientation “Immersion” trips are social kickstarters to many Whitman students, and Scrambles are one of these. Unfortunately, while the Scramble program helps some students, it can be detrimental to many others.

Scrambles (various wilderness trips) are the most popular type of pre-orientation trip, above S.C.O.R.E. (student community outreach) and Explorations (themed programs on and around campus). The S.C.O.R.E. and Exploration programs differ from Scrambles in that they have no additional cost. The truth is, to put it bluntly, these two are considered less grand and have an inferior stigma given the outdoor-oriented nature of the Whitman social climate. I see this as a point of inception for social division on the basis of privilege here at Whitman: not only are the costly trips socially valued, but participation in general is a privilege, as it assumes students can optionally sacrifice time at the end of summer. 

Roughly half of the students at Whitman do not participate in one of the three immersion programs and these students know nobody at the start of orientation. The coagulation of groups of friends begins as soon as people arrive, and first-years who just finished having fun with a bunch of fellow incoming students already see some familiar faces who will likely be friends for some time. 

To a student arriving for orientation without one of these experiences, it feels like there are already set social groups that must be broken into, more or less. On a level of principle, I believe either everyone should participate in a pre-orientation trip or nobody should. Immersions resemble Greek Life: great for those who are in, rarely adequately inclusive and bad for those who are out. 

There is no doubt that immersions are substantially beneficial to participants. I think everyone should do an immersion of some sort, and there is something really valuable that comes from pushing you out of your comfort zone by doing a Scramble. I’m substantially thankful I had the privilege of doing one. The issue, though, is equity in such programs: as the system is now, participation in something everyone should do is a privilege.   

If the goal of the Immersions program is to provide an enjoyable and fruitful experience that makes the college transition more comfortable, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be pushing for every incoming student to participate. I think we as a student body should work to realize and work past the social inequity here. Whitman’s administration obviously makes an effort to treat students fairly regardless of background. Every student is supposed to have equal access to school resources. This ideal isn’t realized in the current pre-orientation trip structure, and equity at this time may be supremely important given the long term social ramifications.