Orientation Committee and Admissions Office shift to closed Facebook group for first-years

In a change from years past, the Facebook page for the Class of 2016 has become an official, closed group controlled and monitored by the Admissions Office and the Orientation Committee and no longer created and maintained by incoming students or upperclassmen, changing how often and the methods by which new students use the group.

Now, only members of the Orientation Committee and the incoming class may join the group, according to Eddie Montenegro ’13, who co-directs the Orientation Committee along with Ellen Sanchez-Huerta ’13. Students requesting to join the group must first be approved by a member of the Admissions Office. Leaders of student groups are permitted to advertise on the page and recruit new members.

Montenegro explained that Admissions started the singular, official group in order to ensure that information circulated to new students would be objective. “We want to give the most accurate representation of what Swarthmore is really like,” Montenegro said. “There are a lot of facts and figures up for interpretation, and we don’t want people to misinterpret anything. This way, no one’s getting any false or subjective information.”

This new closed-group method represents a shift from recent years, when upperclassmen could freely join the Facebook pages for the incoming classes, according to Phil Chodrow ’12. Beginning with the class of 2014, Admissions created one official page, and students ran another, where upperclassmen participated. Incoming freshmen were encouraged by Admissions workers to join both groups. “Starting with [the class of] 2015, however, Admissions stopped this encouragement, with the result that many students were unaware of the student-run group,” Chodrow recounted.

Orientation Committee member Marian Firke ’14 cited organization as the main motivation behind creating a singular, official group. “It can get confusing when incoming and admitted students are scattered across several groups, so having everything up and running before anyone was admitted made sure that all of the students would end up in the same group, together. I think the main issue was making sure that there weren’t three or four small groups of 50 admits each,” Firke elaborated.

In Chodrow’s opinion, “This was a very poor move on the part of Admissions. The informal, upperclassmen-incoming freshmen interaction characterizing those student Facebook groups was extremely valuable to me, and to many others in the 2013 and 2014 classes. It was nice to get insight from non-scripted sources, to get to know upperclassmen before arriving on campus, and generally get pumped about Swat in an independent, student-run space.” Chodrow continued, “Admissions has announcements that are appropriately disseminated via Facebook, and so the Admissions page is a great idea,” but that he feels the ideal Facebook arrangement resembles the two-group system of the classes of 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Under both models, upperclassmen provide a constant level of support to incoming freshmen. “I’m not trying to step in too much or be an overwhelming force,” Montenegro explained, “just to give a general level of support, mostly with answering academic questions.”

Montenegro, Firke and their fellow Orientation Committee members respond to queries on the page each day about everything from placement tests to permissible dorm room refrigerator dimensions. “It’s like fighting a hydra,” Firke said. “Every time we answer one question, ten more spring up from where it came from.”

Firke commented, “I feel like the freshmen this year are posting way more questions than we ever did.” She believes that use has gone up because of the guarantee of helpful answers from Orientation Committee members. “People are asking more questions because they have seen that the upperclassmen are very ready to answer them,” she said. This change may not be completely positive, as Firke noted, “A lot of the questions have concerned minutiae (such as bringing curtains, or how to hang things on the walls) that people in my year chose to either figure out for ourselves or else query on Google.”

Besides asking questions, freshmen have debated political issues, shared interests, posted their essays and exchanged letters via a pen-pal system. The group also served as a virtual, all-freshman form of the Ride the Tide, where Early Decision students attempted to convince Regular Decision admits to pick Swarthmore. The group made a difference especially for international students, said Admissions Counselor Ruby Bhattacharya ’11. “I had the chance to meet with our admitted students in Asia and many of them said they decided to attend Swarthmore based on the community they saw in the Facebook group,” she said. “For most international students, the web is their only means of connecting with Swat.”

Taking new friendships even further, some incoming students even engaged in Google+ chats and video conferences with an average of five or six participants. Incoming students such as Natalia Sucher ’16, who participated in the Google+ chats, enjoyed the forum for social interaction provided by the group. “My favorite thing is being able to scope out the social scene and get to already see who my potential friends are,” Sucher explained.

Montenegro, however, cautioned against the high levels of enthusiasm, idealism of the Swarthmore experience, and interaction he sees displayed on the page. “I feel like this year’s class is a lot more into it,” he said. “I love being at Swarthmore and everything about Swarthmore, but it is just another place where you’re going to be working really hard.”

Firke expressed similar concerns about the heavy use of the 2016 Facebook page. She explained, “I worry a little bit about the amount that they are posting, only because it has given me the impression that they are doing very little with their summers aside from sitting at the computer and waiting for Swarthmore.”

Montenegro echoed her sentiments, speaking of enjoying his last summer before college with friends from home instead of from the Facebook page. “Everyone’s really taking to the whole, ‘these are my best friends’ idea, and it’s a little off-putting,” he said.
Firke affirmed, “It’s always nice to get in touch with new people online, particularly if you find you have things in common, but it was my experience that the people I messaged on Facebook before coming to Swarthmore were not the people I ended up being close friends with here.” She worried that the development of friend groups before arrival at Swarthmore could impede new friendships during Orientation Week and beyond, and that those who had not been as active on the page might feel alienated, which Firke saw occur in the 2014 group. “A few people felt that they didn’t ‘fit in’ with the people who were posting the most, and this made them worry unnecessarily that there wouldn’t be a happy niche for them here at Swat,” she said.

Despite differing opinions over how best to conduct and enjoy the Facebook group experience for new students, all agreed that the group served as a helpful resource for incoming freshmen, and that the class of 2016 is certainly enthusiastic. “It’s great to see that the incoming class is so excited to get here,” Firke concluded.

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