What’s the point of orientation?

Orientation is a chance to expose new students to life at Mount Allison. But what does the orientation committee, commonly known as “white shirts,” offer them?

We teach them how to look cool twerking in tight and bright clothing and the words to our uncreative school cheers. Maybe they will hear a couple grumbles about how hard first-year calc was “back in the day,” but to say academics take the back burner during orientation would be an understatement.

Many upper-year students getting involved with orientation do so because they remember the bumps along the way during their own transition. Yet, each year, the new students are treated to a week filling the role of adoring fans, feeding the egos of their upperclassmen who explode out of a back room and dance at their bewildered new faces, so proud of their shirts. I know the orientation committee has more to offer than this.

In my first year, I considered myself a strong-willed individual, more than capable to take on a new life at Mt. A. But I’m not ashamed to say that I cried to my mommy in the middle of Mel’s on my second day at university. Sobbing between milkshake sips, I indulged in all the doubts, fears and anxieties about this whole university thing, many of which had only appeared  in the previous 48 hours. It was an unexpected and overwhelming emotional reaction. It was also very normal and very common.

Orientation provides wellness workshops and mental health awareness while trying simultaneously to drown out the sounds of homesick- induced tears with pounding club music and copious amounts of alcohol. If you thought the drinking and partying peaked during the first week, just wait until after the first round of finals.When you realize that you were not at all prepared for first-year physics class, someone will hand you another beer before your hyperventilating turns into a full-on panic attack.

There needs to be a conversation about the nature of orientation and the role of the white shirts, which is advertised as a planning committee on the Mt. A website. Of the dozen or so committees I’ve sat on at Mt.A, this is the first one that asked me to twerk-crawl to a J-Biebs song. At Mt. A, the reality is that the white shirt position is used as a social status tool. A key moment in every Mt. A student’s university career is left in the hands of individuals who too often focus on having a stunning new Instagram post rather than the wellbeing of these new students.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some positive parts of orientation, from the Garnet and Gold Rush, which exposes students to useful services and well- known people on campus, to the sex-positive Venus Envy talk. But, from one former white shirt to future members, I urge you to have a serious conversation about the priorities of orientation.

What kind of impression do we want to give first-year students about Mt. A? What are the best ways to welcome new students to the shit show that is first year? I’m not convinced that we are doing our best.

I don’t doubt that these individuals care, but the overall structure and traditions that persist at orientation seem to be in place for white shirts to create a spectacle, and not for first-years to feel truly welcomed. We can do better than this.

4 Responses

  1. It’s funny how you fail to mention that it was said multiple times that no one is obligated to participate in anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. As a volunteer position, planning and attending orientation events were opt-in, but I assume you knew that since you didn’t attend most other events except karaoke BBQ.

    Maybe you should have attended the debriefing meeting where issues like these were discussed, or perhaps as a ‘strong-willed individual’ you could have spoken up to your orientation chair/committee about these concerns you had instead of a passive aggressive article in the argosy.

  2. I am honestly very disappointed by this piece. As a fellow student leader who went through the exact same process of applying and interviewing as you did for your position, I am shocked that you chose to not only stay on the committee with such strong reservations, but you also did not contribute publicly to the improvement of orientation week. If your motivations are truly to make orientation week a safer, healthier, and more instructional event, then I feel as if you have done a great disservice to this years incoming class since you denied them your ideas until now. At that, they are now reading this article and doubting the intentions of their orientation committee. How unsettling that must be for them. As upper year students, we cannot possibly know how the first year students experienced orientation week, but they definitely have their opinions too and maybe that is one place we should be focusing our attention. Is the orientation format perfect? NO. Is there room for significant improvements to be made? YES. Should the ‘hierarchy’ of student leaders continue to be worked on so it is less invasive? YES. Are these changes going to be made if people in positions of relative influence aren’t contributing to the progress they want to see happen? Definitely not.

  3. When I was a freshman I found almost every orientation event to be disorienting.

    If someone chooses a small, undergraduate, liberal arts university it is not unreasonable to assume that they are not expecting frat-style parties, binge drinking, club music, and outdoor chanting and screaming while being taught and told to perform sexually inspired “dance” moves.

    On the bright side, I made lifelong friends, including my husband of 2 years, by scouring residences for similar minded people who were also appalled by the behaviour prescribed to students who might have come here to LEARN.

  4. “It’s funny how you fail to mention that it was said multiple times that no one is obligated to participate in anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. As a volunteer position, planning and attending orientation events were opt-in, but I assume you knew that since you didn’t attend most other events except karaoke BBQ.”

    Yes it is said that you don’t have to do activities, but that doesn’t mean anything does at the end of the day does it? It was kind of mentioned as an afterthought. I don’t remember there being options? I remember my frosh week was a blur. My rez exec was really pushy on being involved in everything. We did everything as a group. There was no “if you don’t want to..”, rather it was “EVERYONE IN THE HALL RIGHT NOW. LETS GOOOO! *blamming on closed doors*”.

    Also whats with attacking Willa anonymously? NOT cool.

    Great article Willa, well done!

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