CUL debates revision of First Days

The Committee for Undergraduate Life (CUL) has temporarily tabled a proposal to change the set-up of First Days.

Specifically, members of CUL have decided to hold off on deciding if the order of First Days and the pre-orientation WOOLF trips should be reversed.

The committee was asked by Dean of the College Peter Murphy to examine First Days and pre-orientation programming. Over the past three weeks, the committee met twice with the Committee for Diversity and Community to discuss the issue.

The proposal was put forth that all first-years should arrive on campus nine days before classes start and immediately start with the normal First Days schedule and then leave for WOOLF trips and participate in other pre-orientation activities such as Windows on Williams (WOW), a pre-orientation program for minority students.

Chair of Religion William Darrow, who is also the chair of CUL, said when the committee launched the discussion of this issue it had hoped to define more clearly the goal of First Days and the relationship it has to pre-orientation. He said CUL also hoped to evaluate which First Days activities are successful and which should be altered.

Darrow said the discussion was prompted by long-standing criticism that activities such as WOOLF and WOW “inadvertently” divide the class up. He said some students have said they feel separated by the various pre-orientation activities and then resentful of the different “gap-bridging” activities that occur during First Days.

Elizabeth Lee ’01, a member of CUL, said no changes were made because there was little consensus among the committee members. Lee added that student opinion (which was solicited at an open meeting) seems to favor revision of the current system rather than a complete overhaul of the orientation programs.

Darrow said one convenience of the restructured orientation period for first-years would be that all parents would arrive on campus at the same time.

He said in the past some parents have been frustrated by the fact that the introductory program for parents is always held after the WOOLF and WOW programs, which is also after many parents have dropped their children off and left.

Darrow added that another plus of the proposal is that first-years would be able to participate in additional community service programs before classes begin. Currently, there is one afternoon when first-years participate in service projects during First Days, but the new set-up would allow first-years who do not participate in WOOLF trips or WOW to become involved in even more community service activities.

Dan Nehmad ’99, the president of the Lehman Community Service Council, said, “The Lehman Council is very enthusiastic about sponsoring longer service projects for freshmen.” He continued on to note that the council is currently considering whether or not to offer two or three day projects as an alternative to WOOLF trips, and he is not sure how the proposed changes in First Days would affect that plan.

Opinions among students are divided on this issue.

Michael Nazarian ’02 said he is in favor of the change.

“The change would be good because it allows people to mix with others first before getting stuck in one group,” he said. “It would also provide for better integration during First Days.”

But Eva Kwok ’02, who chose to attend a WOOLF trip instead of WOW, said she is against the changes. She said WOW is only one factor among many that leads to segregation among students.

“The racial segregation did end up being an obvious downside to the program (WOW),” she said.

But Kwok added that she there are many campus organizations that draw together certain groups of students and cause the same segregation that the WOW program does.

Kwok added that she does not think the WOOLF trips break down first-years into rigid groups. “I like the idea of coming here alone and being stuck in a small group of strangers because we couldn’t be superficial and were forced to keep up a positive attitude,” she said. “Getting a sense of place in the group and feeling comfortable with it helped me to get a perspective of how I would fit in here.”

Kwok did suggest that it might be a good idea for the College to test out the proposed restructuring to see how it works.

Emily Eustis ’00, a junior advisor in Williams A, does not see the need for these changes in First Days. She believes the problem with First Days is the scheduling, which leaves empty blocks of time where the first-years have nothing to do. Eustis said, “I think the focus of reforming First Days should focus on the activities planned first.” She also does not agree that reversing the order of events will help with social issues. She said whether or not WOOLF and WOW take place before or after First Days, the students who participate will have the same advantage of having made friends in other entries.

Other schools, such as Amherst and Middlebury, have already made similar changes in their orientation programs.

Cathryn Vega, a first-year at Middlebury College, recommends that Williams make the change.

She said she preferred having First Days first because she met a broad range of students immediately. “When you came to school you knew nobody knew anyone and you could make friends before orientation, but if you come to school with a group of friends it holds you back,” she said.

At the end of the discussion, CUL decided that instead of making any radical changes, that the committee would advise the groups and organizations involved in the planning of First Days to coordinate more. In the past, First Days has been organized by the Dean’s Office, in conjunction with junior advisers, the Health Center, WOOLF organizers, the MCC, and the athletic department. With more coordination, Darrow hopes that programming will not overlap, and that all the needs of different groups will be met.

Darrow suggested that in planning First Days the organizations discuss how the program works as a whole. He commented that although programs seem to work well individually, the overall goals and priorities of First Days need to be re-examined. He also observed that there are problems in the communication between the groups which also need to be addressed.

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