Theta Service Trip 2017

By Rachel Lipski

Service, cultural awareness and intellectual and social development are at the heart of Theta’s values. This winter break I was honored to attend a Theta Foundation sponsored trip to Vancouver with sisters from across the country and Canada where we not only worked on service projects but also discussed how we could partake in service as a chapter and personally.

While service (especially a service trip to a new place) can often feel detached from the community you are serving, this trip was organized in such a way that we would first get a tour or learn about the background of the organization or site to which we were providing service. Developing relationships with the community we were serving really enhanced the experience and inspiration of the service, and facilitated a perspective of working alongside a community rather than merely for a community. For example, on the first day of the trip we were given a walking tour of Stanley Park by two members of an active first world peoples group, native to that park. During the tour they shared information about their tribe’s history, use of the land, and the park’s cultural significance to them today. Following the tour, we were given a presentation by the Stanley Park Ecological Society, with whom we partnered to execute a park clean up, excavating invasive species of plants.

Every evening, as a full group, we discussed aspects of the day that we found surprising or challenging to our prior worldviews, acknowledging where places of privilege, biases, or assumptions manifest themselves. While each member of trip came from different backgrounds and college experiences, we all agreed that we wanted this trip to be one where we could encourage one another to be more conscientious. Before bed, I journaled privately, answering questions such as What did I learn about community and culture? In what way has my worldview been changed or enhanced? Honestly, going to sleep each night, following our discussion and journal time, I often remained feeling unsettled about questions like how is it possible to engage in a new place as a tourist in an industry that monetizes cultural appropriation? Where I do find comfort, however, is in recognizing that the leading women that Theta has shaped are women who will not feel settled about the many areas of adversity facing so many worldwide. The awareness and even disturbance of these pressing issues is what truly inspires and empowers Thetas internationally to have the widest influence for good.

Since coming back to school for the Spring semester, I am so thankful that our chapter has also adopted such a central focus to the deep questions about diversity and inclusion, both on a macro-level and in a proactive, interpersonal manner encouraging us further our meaningful engagement within our sisters and school.

Rachel is our chapter's Chief Financial Officer and applied to attend the service trip in the fall. Rachel is a junior at Barnard, double majoring in economics and Jewish studies. Outside of her position in Theta, she is on the board of the Athena Pre-Law Society and is a part of Columbia Faith and Action.