Orientation Revamped for Fall 2015
Issue   |   Wed, 02/11/2015 - 00:17

The college’s orientation committee is currently working on a new orientation schedule for fall 2015 and hopes to shorten Amherst’s nine-day orientation by two days. The committee, made up of 11 students and administrators, has devised a new mission statement for orientation in order to further clarify the week’s purpose.

“[The mission statement] allowed us to clarify what the theoretical goals of orientation should be,” said Siraj Sindhu ’17, an AAS senator and member of the committee. “For example, should orientation prioritize socializing students into the community or academic preparation? Should orientation explicitly engage the whole campus community? To what extent should mental health and time management come up during orientation?”

The new mission statement emphasizes a need to welcome all students into a dynamic, diverse and supportive community. It also emphasizes collaboration between faculty, staff and students in order to ensure students’ intellectual and personal success.

Perhaps the biggest change to the proposed 2015 orientation would be its shortened timeline. The new orientation is tentatively scheduled to begin on Tuesday instead of Sunday, and thus will be two days shorter than last year’s.

“I think a shortened orientation will provide first-year students with an experience that is slightly less overwhelming in terms of the extent of programs that they will be required to attend,” said Scott Nelson ’18, a committee member and AAS senator.

Last year, the college organized LEAP programs for incoming first-years and transfer students for the first time. LEAP, an acronym for “Learn, Explore, Activate and Participate,” included programs from the past, such as First Year Outdoor Orientation Trips (FOOT) and Community Engagement orientation Trip (CEOT), but also introduced five new programs.

First-year and transfer students will still be required to participate in a LEAP program.

Dean of New Students Rick López said that LEAP programs received generally positive feedback last year. He said that the newly introduced Book and Plow Farm program was also very well received, and the committee plans to expand the program so that more students can participate.

The committee also wants an increased emphasis on bystander intervention training. Committee members said that unlike last year, training sessions will be held before LEAP programs, in the hope that students can attend those programs feeling that they can take responsibility for each other as members of a shared community.

Another common discussion revolved around how to bridge what is commonly seen as a divide between athletes and non-athletes. López said the college was aware that fall season athletes needed to start training early and that practices often conflicted with orientation. He wants to incorporate the voices of both athletes and non-athletes, while having all students be equally invested in orientation.

“We want team members to connect with the team, but before they do that, [we hope that athletes] realize that there are other kinds of communities here,” López said. “A lot of student athletes feel like there is the team and then nothing, which is not true at all. Hopefully by introducing people to a range of communities, that could allow people to get straight into their teams, while still having other communities that they could connect to in the off-season.”

As a possible solution, the committee may organize new orientation into “blocks” of time.

“We will be creating more specific blocks within the orientation with moments when varsity and club athletes can practice and not worry about squeezing things,” López said. He also said that the schedule will include blocks of free time, which will help students relax with new friends and not be anxious about always attending some orientation event.

Kari-elle Brown ’15, a member of the committee, said more freedom and flexibility during orientation would help give “students more downtime to digest the intense experience that is orientation, as well as make students feel like they were learning about life in the Amherst community without feeling lectured at 24/7.”

Orientation 2015 will still have squad meetings, facilitated by upperclassmen as orientation leaders. López said he thinks there is great value in squads because they are microcosms of the diverse campus, and that the committee is discussing how to sustain relationships built within squads past the first semester of college.

“We don’t want to make it artificial or forceful, but we want to make a space for that,” López said.

Another change is that the “Flash Talks” introduced last year will be taken out of orientation and instead be made available online. Flash Talks were a series of 15-minute talks that provided information about campus resources, such as campus police, IT services and the Counseling Center. Furthermore, student organizations, such as a capella groups and club sports teams, can create flash talk videos as well, giving students previous exposure to the organizations before classes begin.

López said that the committee continues working toward building an orientation based around conversations rather than lectures.

“We are hoping to shift things so that it’s less throwing information at students,” he said. “We want students to feel that they are in control, so that they don’t feel like they are being delivered some sort of program or told what to think.”