Feedback Changes Extended Orientation
Issue   |   Wed, 11/06/2013 - 01:05

On Sept. 20, first-years were expected to attend the first of a series of events known as “Extended Orientation.” But, out of the 466 members of the Class of 2017, a few dozen attended, according to a mass e-mail sent out by Dean of New Students Patricia O’Hara.

The e-mail, sent out on Sept. 23, announced the suspension of “Extended Orientation” and her disapproval at the lack of attendance: “When you think about the hours and hours of planning and preparation that went into [the] program — the physical set-up, the audio, the food, and the programming — you will I am sure agree that we just cannot just go ahead as though we had ‘a bad day.’ I need to find a better way to provide a venue for the programmers — students, professors, deans and health professionals — who are working on our future extended orientation events. You need to tell me how.”

O’Hara asked students to provide feedback by commenting on the Amherst site, e-mailing her, or speaking with her in person. About 100 first-years responded. Recurring comments included smaller group discussions, residence hall-based events, student speakers and flexible scheduling. These were considered and implemented into the newly-named “First-Year Programming.” The heads of these events (O’Hara, Area Coordinator for the First-Year Experience Dominick Usher, and the First-Year Resident Counselors) agreed that the name “Extended Orientation” sounded too demanding.

Paul Gramieri ‘17 agreed: “I think the terminology ‘extended orientation’ was wrong and mislabeled the events. It’s no longer Orientation because we are already oriented. I’m glad that was changed.”

Gramieri especially lauded the change in scheduled times: “I wasn’t able to attend that first ‘Extended Orientation’ event because it coincided with a class. I even had a test on that particular day. A lot of students had that problem, actually. I’m glad that the new events will mostly be scheduled at more convenient times.”

In an e-mail sent out on October 11, O’Hara announced: “After reading through your responses and meeting with many of you individually over the last few weeks, I am happy to report that extended orientation has been completely redesigned. The content we hoped to deliver will now be presented in a model...with small groups, and at varied times to fit your schedules. The facilitators of these meetings will be your own RCs and other student leaders who will have had some training in the particular topics. If we can provide on-line tools for content, we will.”

“First-Year Programming” will consist of three major events instead of the originally intended four. The intended four comprised workshops on identity, intellectual responsibility, mental health, and on-campus social culture.

The first new program was going to be an RC-led discussion on mental health. However, the Counseling Center’s “First-Year Transitions” series replaced that. According to O’Hara, the cancellation of that first event made sense; the Counseling Center had already planned “First-Year Transitions” in advance and both programs were essentially made with the same goal in mind.

The second event of “First-Year Programming” consists of bystander training, in which Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect speak with first-years during their respective dorm’s tea time. The programming was largely organized by Sexual Respect Educator Amanda C. Vann.

“I found the bystander training very helpful. I liked the fact it happened within our dorm. I also liked the fact it happened in an intimate setting where I could speak with my peers,” Victor Ortiz ‘17 said.

In coordination with Interim Assistant Dean of Student Conduct Susie Mitton Shannon, the third of the newly-created first-year events hones in on plagiarism. Students will be expected to take an online quiz about the rules of plagiarism. The results will be discussed between students and their RCs.

“First-Year Programming” differs greatly from similar programming in previous years. The gist of an extended Orientation was implemented two years ago. Unlike this year’s events, these were mandatory. They were conducted in Johnson Chapel and featured professors, coaches, and story-tellers. They didn’t feature the voices of fellow students.

“This year’s First-Year RCs, many of whom participated in past orientation events, voiced the need for student voices. We found that with this year’s first-years as well,” O’Hara said.

The events are “incentivized.” If 90% of a first-year dorm show up to each scheduled programming (attendance is taken by the RCs), it will be awarded with varying prizes (including a pizza party and Sugar Jones cookies). The events will potentially extend into the spring, incorporating more involvement with student groups such as To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA).

“We’ve learned that the key players are RCs and on-campus student leaders. I look forward to implementing more effective programming,” O’Hara said.