Reorganization of First Days planned

After years of discussion among various constituencies on campus, the first-years’ First Days schedule will change next year. Under a new plan formulated by Norma Lopez ’95, assistant dean of the College, First Days will now be held before Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-Years (WOOLF) trips and athletic team practices.

The plan has the support of Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, and other administrators. Almost all of the proposed changes to the First Days schedule should be implemented by the time the class of 2006 arrives.

“Changing the First Days schedule has been an ongoing conversation, and recently many [administrators] have felt that Williams students should begin their college career as the cohesive community we claim to be,” said Lopez.

Some administrators and students strongly believe that pre-orientation programs, such as Windows on Williams (WOW), WOOLF, the International Student Orientation and pre-season athletic practices, encourage division within the first-year class.

“I do not think the pre-orientation programs are solely responsible for this [division],” Lopez said. “It is a consequence of a variety of issues the College faces, but we should, at the very least, not introduce the students to their next four years by separating them from the start.”

With the anticipated changes, First Days will be moved to the week before classes begin, starting on Wednesday, Aug. 28 and ending on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 31.

Consequently, programs like WOW, WOOLF, the International Student Orientation and pre-season athletic practices will be held from Saturday, Aug. 31 through Tuesday, Sept. 3. Wednesday, Aug. 28 will be designated as First-Year Academic Advising day.

“The change is a good compromise,” said Lopez. “It is not taking away the opportunity to participate in the programming typically held prior to First Days, but it is allowing for a significant change that will add to the feeling of arriving into a ‘community of learning’ [as described in the College’s Mission Statement].”

Richard Spalding, chaplain of the College and coordinator of community service, expressed the same sentiments as Lopez.

“I am glad that all kinds of creative energy are going into planning First Days because, like most things, there are always possibilities for tuning a program so that it addresses the needs in a deeper and more effective way,” said Spalding. “I think there’s a lot more fun to be had, a lot more learning to do, a lot more connection with the nature of this place that can go on during those first days.”

Those first-year students who choose not to participate in the traditional orientation programs will have the opportunity to partake in a new program currently in the developmental stage called “Where Am I?” This program will allow those first-year students to become familiar with the College community.

According to Scott Lewis, director of the Williams Outing Club (WOC), the “Where Am I?” program “will combine a sense of place (Berkshire County), community service, [exposure to the arts] and on-campus activities.”

Through this new program, Spalding hopes to introduce first-year students to the numerous opportunities for enhancing their Williams education through community service. The logistics of this program have yet to be determined.

“I have a great interest in encouraging all Williams students to [discover and learn] as much as they can about where they are, who our neighbors are, what’s going on in people’s lives beyond the campus, what challenges the people among whom we live are facing, [and] what [are] the stories of this place and [its] people,” Spalding said.

Ultimately, Spalding hopes that the proposed changes to First Days will encourage first-year students to become more conscious of their local surroundings and who they are as a individuals.

As of now, the effect of this rearrangement on the programs previously held before First Days is unknown.

“The MCC [Multicultural Center], together with MinCo, WCBP [Williams Community Building Program] and past facilitators for WOW, are still working out the details of WOW for next year,” said Gail Newman, professor of German and director of the MCC. She emphasized that she is trying to gather all of the information and input she can before any specific logistical changes are made to WOW’s schedule.

Next year, WOOLF will only hold four-day trips rather than the usual five- and three-day trips. WOOLF will continue to offer a variety of options, including backpacking, canoeing, and rock climbing trips. The WOC is even considering adding a new four-day whitewater kayaking trip, which would be limited to six participants.

Also, the WOC hopes to make WOOLF available to students who arrive on campus without having signed up for a particular program

“I personally am very excited about the new arrangement,” Lewis said. “I have long been a proponent of wanting to make WOOLF an easy option for all. I also believe that it will be a very welcomed change for students to meet their entry first, and then break up into special interest groups. They will have lots of stories to share upon their return to the entry!”