Students looking at sheets of paper on wall with the words “white, male, able-bodied, straight, christian, cys gender and neurotypical” on them

Incoming Princeton students learn powerful lessons about each other during Orientation

Sept. 7, 2018 12:06 p.m.

First-year students (left to right) Jayson Badal, Haneul Jung and Selam Bellete discuss examples of privilege during an exercise at the Dialogue and Difference in Action (DDA) program during Princeton University Orientation. The program encourages first-year students to explore issues of identity, privilege and difference in the contexts of the University and society at large.

STILLWATER, NEW JERSEY — After only a few days since meeting, 50 new Princeton students shared personal stories about who they are and learned powerful lessons about the experiences of others.  

Dialogue and Difference in Action (DDA), one of three small-group Orientation activities, encouraged first-year students to discuss issues of identity, privilege and difference. Students examined these concepts within the contexts of the University and society at large, gaining a better understanding of their new campus community and cultivating strategies to build meaningful relationships with peers. 

The undergraduates traveled off campus to bond, spending Sept. 3-7 at the bucolic Fairview Lake YMCA Camp. Each day was centered on different themes: building trust and connection, understanding self, understanding University community and groups, understanding broader community, and campus action.

“DDA is an immersive and deeply engaging experience for students to explore many aspects of their identities, challenging concepts, systemic social issues and the lived experiences of others,” said LaTanya Buck, dean for diversity and inclusion in the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life. “To explore and be challenged in this way is critical to one’s education and life journey. This program is an example of the intentional and collaborative work of the staff within the Carl A. Fields Center, Women*s Center and LGBT Center, as well as the commitment and support from the vice president for campus life.”

  • Students participating in Dialogue and Difference in Action workshop in YMCA lodge

    DDA was one of three small-group experiences held during Orientation. The 50 first-year students traveled to Fairview Lake YMCA Camp in Stillwater, New Jersey, to bond and learn from each other. The program included large group discussions led by professional staff and student facilitators in the camp’s lodge.

  • Hanzhang Ren (left) speaking with Hunter Worth

    Hanzhang Ren (left) speaks with Hunter Worth.

  • Students listening to speaker

    Students share and listen to each other's stories.

  • DDA student facilitator T.J. Smith

    DDA student facilitator T.J. Smith, Class of 2020, shares a story.

  • Anika Duffus (left) talks with Musab Almajnouni

    Anika Duffus (left) talks with Musab Almajnouni.

  • Madeleine Quackenbush writing in notebook

    Madeleine Quackenbush writes about her own story.

  • Students posing after a sunrise hike

    First-year students participating in DDA start their day with a sunrise hike in the hills surrounding the Fairview Lake YMCA Camp.

Professional staff and student facilitators led first-year students through interactive exercises to explore their own identities and gain a better understanding of the realities of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, religious discrimination, and other conscious or unconscious biases.

During one morning session, students sat in a large circle inside the camp’s lodge discussing privilege. J Mase III, an educator and founder of awQward talent, stood in the center and asked the group to call out examples of privileged social identities.

“White.” 

“Able-bodied.” 

“Cisgender.” 

“U.S. citizen.”

“Male.” 

“Princeton student.” 

“Our privileges can change from space to space,” Mase said. “Maybe you experience racial privilege or ethnic privilege in some spaces, but not in other contexts. When it comes to your own individual privilege story, you can [interpret] it the way you want.”

Mase then asked students to pair up and discuss a personal privilege that made them uncomfortable. When they reconvened, some students shared their stories with the larger group. 

“My example of privilege is education,” said one student from Louisiana. “I come from a state with some of the worst education rates in the country, but I went to a private school. I had advantages over so many of my friends who went to the public high school. … Most of the kids never leave my hometown. Once you graduate from high school, you are on your own. They will never see college because they don’t know what it is and they don’t know how to get there.”

Another student shared how her life differed from other children of immigrants.

“My privilege is having parents who are fluent English speakers,” she said. “Even though my parents are from Ethiopia, they went to English schools. That helped a lot with their transition into American life and gave me a lot of advantages. … I only realized this when my best friend, whose parents are from Cuba, was applying to college. Her parents don’t speak much English and she could not ask them for help with applications and applying for financial aid.” 

As the group broke for lunch, students continued their conversations as they walked along the quiet camp grounds. They hoped to better understand each other and the many students they will meet in their first year at Princeton.

Other members of the Class of 2022 spent this past week participating in other bonding experiences through Community Action and Outdoor Action. Students return to campus today and will continue with Orientation activities through the first day of classes on Sept. 12.