Monday, August 19, 2019

Trinity’s orientation strategy should be reconsidered


The opening days at Trinity College for the new class of 2018 were filled to the gills with pre-scheduled meetings and activities designed to equip incoming Bantams with skills they would need to tackle college life, as well as allow them to mix, meet, and mingle as a class before veteran college students arrived days later.

The first day was a whirlwind of excitement that began with moving-in and ended with a beautiful Convocation ceremony. Once parents departed, Orientation activities began. A medley of meetings, required events, and social gatherings generated excitement. The road through Orientation 2014 was paved with good intention, but the execution failed to live up to the hopes of the student body and, more likely, the administration.

No freshman really knew what to expect from Trinity. No one knew where Vernon Social was, how to add/drop classes, what a book loan was, or how to approach the dozens of new, exciting, and uncomfortable situations they will face over the next four years. Orientation is a rare chance the administration has to get the attention of the new class and impart important wisdom to students.

Freshmen were pulled out of their comfort zones and thrown into multiple hours of lectures each and every day of Orientation. This was followed by a required meal with an RA or mentor, and a long night of wandering campus trying to find a party or attempting to make friends at the Freshman Carnival. Each of these events held significance and value, for the students who actually attended without swiping their ID and then sneaking out a nearby exit. The core issue with this year’s Freshman Orientation was that students were so exhausted, so saturated with information, and so unengaged that they opted out and took any chance possible to hide away in their dorm rooms and nap or watch Netflix. Can anyone blame them? On any given day, a Trinity freshman in Orientation would be expected to balance multiple hours of meetings with hopes to explore Ferris Athletic Center, the need to visit the Health Center or Registrar, dorm or hall bonding activities, meals, social time to meet classmates, and sleep. It’s funny that in the midst of the flurry of activity, requirements and restrictions about Orientation activities, students were told to relax, make friends, try new things, and make choices about what they wanted to do.

One of the most suprising lessons I realized was the idea that, yes, class is optional. Upon hearing Michael Weber speak in the Koeppel Community Sports Center was full of silly anecdotes, explaining that college students really aren’t required to be students, and everyone present at the meeting sat up a little straighter and listened a little more attentively.

It’s true that attendance is required for a desirable grade. But, in reality, college students have the freedom to make the choice on their own about whether they care. Why not put that into practice during Orientation weekend? The best way to learn is by doing, hence the emphasis on participating in undergraduate research, trying new programs, going out of your way for new experiences. Why not start off with such an important lesson? Why not trust the newest generation of Bantams to uphold the values they are expected to embody while at Trinity?

A potential redesign focused on making students feel trusted to be adults and responsible to learn what they felt was important, the administration would see a much higher level of engagement and compliance. Certainly there are particular meetings that must be attended by all members of the school community, such as the Speak About It workshop and the Campus Safety presentation. Other lectures, however, though informative, were repetitive and not incredibly eye-opening. For next fall, the administration could rank these mandatory meetings in categories, and allow students to choose which seminars suit them the best so that each student is exposed to important information about life at Trinity College, but no student feels bored, disconnected, or inclined to swipe his or her ID and sneak out the back. A student who feels particularly anxious about keeping up with a rigorous course schedule could choose to attend a meeting about academic success and balancing activities with schoolwork, another could sit in on a student panel about extracurriculars, while even another student could attend a seminar about health and wellness resources at Trinity.

College is a learning experience for every student, but not everyone takes the same courses, and not everyone needs to learn the same things. It is a unifying experience that is also incredibly individual. Freshman Orientation should mirror this defining aspect of college life. Being able to design one’s Orientation schedule, incoming Trinity students would get the information they need while getting a much appreciated jump start on learning how to make choices independently and thoughtfully, the way they will need to once Orientation ends.


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