The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

DLAB Facilitator Spotlight: Sirey Zhang '20

Sirey Zhang '20 shares his experience as a 2018 DLAB facilitator.

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Dartmouth Leadership Attitudes and Behaviors (DLAB) is a leadership development and mentorship program for first-year students. Over the course of six weeks, upperclassmen facilitators guide small groups of first-year students in discussions about values, issues on campus, and how to live with integrity at Dartmouth. DLAB is a co-sponsored program between the Rockefeller Center and the Office of Student Life. Below is an interview with Sirey Zhang '20 about his experience as a DLAB facilitator this past winter term. 

Sirey Zhang is a ’20 from Denver, Colorado. Sirey is an anthropology major, and academically, he is interested in global health and the relationship between disease and poverty through a biosocial lens. On campus, he is involved in Global Health Fellows, the Dartmouth Coalition on Global Health, and the Dickey Center, where he conducted a term of research on childhood vaccines in central Africa. After graduation, he hopes to attend medical school and practice medicine in developing countries.

Why did you become a DLAB facilitator?

I first heard about DLAB from my friend, Emily Luy Tan, who was a DLAB participant last year and became a facilitator this year.

My freshman year was really challenging, I ended the year feeling like I just made a lot of acquaintances and nothing else. I think a lot of that stemmed from the fact that a vast majority of the interactions people have around here really just skim the surface and exist on a basic level.

It wasn’t until my sophomore fall that I did find a sense of community through living in Foley house and having a family like that.

Because it took so long for me to reach that point, I wanted to engage in dialogue about the campus and people’s interactions with the place and people around them…and have that dialogue that opens people up to thinking about where they are in a new way. I also wanted to personally learn through this process.

What is something you wish you knew as a freshman?

I wish I knew that everyone else was struggling too. Social media is definitely the worst at contributing to this problem. I took Chem 5 and 6 freshman year, and I spent a lot of late nights in the library, and I would always walk home and scroll through my social media feeds and think about what I was doing wrong. Everyone else seemed like they were having a better time than me and they were doing better than me.

I wish I knew that people around me were facing similar challenges and, most importantly, it’s okay for people to unashamedly express that reality. If someone is asking you how you’re doing and you’re honest with them, other people will respect you for that, because I’m sure more often then not, people are also trying to put a mask on a tough week. I really wish I knew that freshman year.

What was your experience in DLAB facilitator training?

Training was fantastic because it was able to open my eyes to the fact that more people than I thought had similar ideas as me on problematic campus dynamics between students, student groups, and the administration. It gave me a really big sigh of relief to figure out that there are people that think about these things, such as issues with the Greek System or how the administration reacts to, or doesn’t react to, the needs of students on campus who feel vulnerable.

Being able to talk about these issues with people really opened my eyes and taught me not to make assumptions about people. I can be a pretty judgmental person and that’s something I’m working on. I fell victim to that judgment at the start of training, when I made assumptions about a person in training that I assumed I would have nothing in common with.

Going through training, and hearing that this person shared similar ideas to me, helped me move beyond my judgments, and now we’ve become friends. I think I’m a better person because of this experience.

What has your experience been like with your co-facilitator?

My co-facilitator is Grace Sherrill, who is also a ‘20. She’s fantastic! I didn’t know her before starting DLAB. We’ve gotten to know each other better over time and we’ve gotten more comfortable with each other. When we would plan for sessions at the start of the term, it was pretty awkward, and we would just go through the outline of what we were supposed to talk about. But as the term has progressed, we’ve restructured activities and found ways to facilitate that works best with our group. The two of us have gotten to know each other and everyone in the group a lot better. As the term has gone on, I’ve learned to really appreciate having someone like Grace to help me discuss these important issues.

What has been most challenging for you as a facilitator?

There are things that I want to tell participants about dynamics and interactions between people and groups on campus, but I know that as a facilitator it’s my responsibility to guide a discussion so that every person in the group can get to those conclusions themselves.

There’s so many moments during DLAB discussions when I want to blurt out my opinion on something, but I know that it was important to me, in my growth here so far, that I formulated these opinions on my own and without someone telling me what to think. So even though I feel very strongly about things, I still want everyone to have that same process of thinking about who they are and how things fit together around here by themselves. It’s an ongoing challenge.

What growth have you observed in your participants over the course of the program?

The most obvious growth has been that people are willing to share things that people normally don’t want to share in basic level interactions around campus. Like admitting that they’re not having the best time or struggling with things. I remember, two sessions ago, when the group finally felt more like a group rather than an awkward collection of people. One person said ‘Oh yeah I’ve been having a really hard time this quarter and it hasn’t been easy in general so far’ and another person was like ‘What? You’re feeling that way too!’ I was really happy to reach that point of authenticity.

I was able to share too and I gave examples of how I have felt inadequate at Dartmouth. As a facilitator, when you start out, there’s a perceived power dynamic between the facilitator and the participants. As that slowly eroded, it’s helped people see more humanness in everyone.

What is something you’ve learned from being a DLAB facilitator?

I’ve learned that you leave a deeper impression on people on campus than you expect. Most of the time every day is comprised of going to class and running into someone that you vaguely know, seeing a friend for a bit, and then hunkering down and doing work. I’ve learned from my participants that it’s really little interactions that they’ve had with people that have helped them through periods of doubt or homesickness. I think this is true especially for freshmen trying to find their way around campus.

I think this can be magnified everywhere – even just smiling at a stranger one day might make a much larger impression on the person’s day than you might think. That is one of the most valuable things that the participants in my group have taught me.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences