Changes to New Student Orientation

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This year, there have been a number of changes to first year orientation, including the replacement of the Campus Advisor (CA) program with a larger Orientation Committee (OC), a modification of the previous Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), Drugs and Alcohol Resource Team (DART), and diversity workshops, and several changes to the Orientation Play.

CA Phase-out

In previous years, Campus Advisors led freshmen through orientation. This year, the CA program has been phased out, leading to Residential Advisors (RAs), Student Academic Mentors (SAMs), and the Orientation Committee (OC) sharing the orientation responsibilities previously held by CAs. Each first year hall has a team responsible for them made up of either an RA and a SAM, an RA and another RA with no freshmen on their hall, or an RA and a member of the OC. These teams take the first year students to their mandatory events, give them tours of campus, and facilitate orientation discussions. The RAs, SAMs, and OC collectively formed the Orientation Leaders (OLs) all of whom went through the same orientation training.

Mike Elias, the Assistant Director of Student Activities and Leadership, explained the reasoning behind the change: “It was difficult for the Orientation Committee to organize everything and then relay all that information back to the CAs. We went into the structure this year with the mindset that we would need more orientation folks and all the groups would be trained in the same way. It’s a way to streamline the management of all those groups and think about how we’re collaborating and planning together consistently.”

In response to this new structure, a former CA and current member of the OC, Constance Mietowski ‘16, remarked, “I think the fact that the members of the OC are getting the same training as the SAMs and the RAs is really good. Last year as a CA, sometimes students would come to me with questions and I didn’t know how to answer them. It seems much better than last year where the CAs arrived later and were sort of thrown into it and didn’t really get to know the other people in orientation.”

Orientation Discussions

Workshops also looked very different this year. The diversity, ASAP, and DART workshops that used to be held by members of the Intercultural Center, ASAP, and DART respectively, were all split into two parts: a presentation and a discussion. Lili Rodriguez, the Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development, gave the diversity presentation, covering topics such as different social identities and how to be mindful of differences new students encounter at Swarthmore. Nina Harris, the Violence Prevention Educator and Advocate, presented on what makes a healthy relationship in college — both platonic and romantic. Josh Ellow, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor, gave what was formerly the DART presentation, covering general drug and alcohol information and different support resources available to students on campus.

After the presentations, first year groups broke out to have discussions facilitated by RAs, SAMs, OC members, and some extra student facilitators hired by Dean Rodriguez. This new system was designed to ensure the first years have more continuity in their discussion groups.

Rachel Head, now the Director of the Office of Student Engagement, said, “Last year, we were getting reports that the sessions were not consistent. There were 20-25 orientation groups and what one person was getting out of a group wasn’t the same type of information or education that other people were getting. This structure seems to allow greater consistency in the direction of the conversation and the content that’s explored.”

These discussions are designed to continue throughout the semester with mandatory follow-up sessions that incur a penalty if first year students fail to attend. This is part of the administration’s attempt to frame these discussions as an ongoing dialogue rather than an isolated workshop at the beginning of the year, partially in response to feedback from the Margolis Healy audit of the College’s Title IX and Clery Act Assessment.

Student leaders seemed generally supportive of this new approach to Orientation. Julia Thomas ‘16, an RA in Pittenger said, “I like the idea of keeping the people in charge of facilitations the same. I think the fact that the orientation groups stay consistent is good for freshmen, especially freshmen who haven’t had any of these discussions with their peers before. But there’s also the fact that we’re not ASAP or DART, we’re not experts in the topic. But these are just beginning conversations so having an expert may not be necessary.”

New Events and Orientation Play

Orientation also featured some new events, including a walk through the Crum Woods with Swarthmore professors, a SustainaChallenge smoothie event where first years could learn about environmental sustainability while pedaling a stationary bike to power their blender, and an introduction to the Mullan Center.

Additionally, this year featured a new collection before First Collection in which the entire community gathered to consider a series of Quaker Queries, or questions posed by deans and the administration about community values. This was created foster ongoing open discussion and reflection as a community.

Finally, the Orientation Play (now called the Welcome Play) will be on Sunday night and will not be mandatory for first years. Both first years and returning students are welcome to attend, but the doors will open early for first years, identified by their checkered wristbands.

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