First Days. Orientation. Information session. Panel. Placement examination. The words invoke fear in the heart of a typical incoming freshman. Fortunately, it is now safe to say that we, the undergraduate community of Williams College, have all survived the three and one half days during which we are subjected to many of the aforementioned activities. And perhaps this is why some of the required events are made so intolerable – in this way, student, inter-class solidarity is formed over the common painstaking experience of First Days for First Years.
In writing this, I begin to wonder whether any of the comments I am about to make or suggestions I am about to extend have been heard before. Probably. But hopefully someone out there – a dean, a dutiful College Council member, a professor with administrative clout – will take some of it to heart. I speak to the organizers out there, at institutions of higher education nationwide: for the love of your freshmen, please, really make “required” events worthwhile.
Now, I do not deny that I enjoyed several of our first encounters with each other and with members of the Williams community. The first class meeting, in which Morgan Midwest JA Felton Booker initiated a rousing chant of “0-3, 0-3,” was vital to uniting our class of 550 for the first time. And although some of the actual speeches may not have been as engaging as we might have hoped, the school conveniently provided us with the chance to ogle our fellow classmates for the first time. I am not shallow; you all did it. It was exciting to shout out to people that you recognized from high school, or from pre-orientation trips like W.O.O.L.F. and WOW/ALANA. We got to sing “The Mountains” for the first of many times in our careers here as Ephs. And I was particularly amused in watching the JAs’ faces cringe in bitterness at the now annual, but necessary comment, “You are the smartest and most talented class Williams College has ever admitted.”
Katie Koest-ner’s emotional, almost interactive talk on rape and sexual harassment was one of the best I’ve ever heard. It was a heavy topic presented very well by both the speaker and the College. It was during this speech that I got a different glimpse of my new classmates and their willingness to put themselves out there, and speak out against something so hard to combat in environments such as ours.
This being only the second year of “First Night,” I would like to offer some brief suggestions to a fairly well-executed, very good idea. “First Night” offered a variety of activities for freshmen on the first night we were all here together, Sunday, September 5. There were jazz combos to be heard, stars to be gazed upon, short dramatic one-acts to be watched – but they were all happening simultaneously, and the curious freshman found it impossible to attend all of the activities and performances in which he or she was interested.
First, it would help to spread the activities over the course of a few of our first nights, so we could get a taste of all the different departmental offerings here at the College. Secondly, although I am an admittedly huge theater and the arts geek at present, I do feel the need to put a word in for the ex-jock in me: it seemed that most of the events were geared towards those interested in the performing arts. When I returned to my entry, or any freshman dorm for that matter, many of my friends were bored out of their heads because, and I quote, “All of the stuff offered is for artsy people, there’s barely anything for the rest of us.”
On the other hand, some activities required of us were just a plain waste of time. For instance, armed with my Gore-Tex rainjacket and nice black shoes, I went dutifully to the President’s house with the intention of introducing myself to Payne. When my entry arrived there, the place was overflowing with well-dressed, nervous freshmen, making desperate attempts to schmooze with each other and with their JAs. Soon after our entrance, an entrymate of mine appeared from a small crowd of people and said, “Jenn, I went over there, shook his hand, made nice; he made a comment about the color of my rainjacket; I’ve had my piece, now I’m going to go.” Assuming Payne wouldn’t remember me from a 45-second encounter, and realizing that he was departing soon anyway, I grabbed some cheese and crackers and promptly returned to my room in the Frosh Quad to continue unpacking.
In my experience, I have always felt this way about panels: short and sweet, can’t be beat. Ask any freshman, or any student for that matter, and they will tell you that both the “Academic Life” and “Daily Life” panels, although useful and informative in the abstract, are neither to the incoming frosh. I took nothing away from the academic panel other than the plain truth that yes, Williams has academics and academic support services. Our JAs had told us about much of what was presented during the panel – Writing Workshop, the honor code, the library – where it was and how to use it.
All of this information is indeed vital to our academic lives here, but to make restless freshmen not only sit through a panel at ten in the morning after their second night at college, but also devote their undivided attention to the speakers is almost too much. And I admit, I did not attend the latter panel, but I heard that mimes performed to a very talented electric bass player at some point in the evening. More importantly, I did hear that it was far too long and badly scheduled. Our last night before classes, [almost] the entire freshman class sat through talks about books, food and health, when all everyone wanted to do was finish unpacking and go out and meet people.
But I will not leave you without qualifying my incessant ranting: I feel well-adjusted enough to be writing this with only the best intentions. I like Williams a lot. I want to help the enigmatic “they” improve orientation activities for future incoming freshman. And for all that I complain, First Days for First Years served its purpose well, and I look back on it as a pleasant and exciting time during which I met Williams’ “smartest and most talented” students ever to be admitted.