First Days revised for Class of 2012

Two new pre-orientation programs will get select students acclimated to Williams before the general frenzy of First Days next fall. Two new programs have been added to the schedule for First Days for the Class of 2012 to better address particular challenges faced by high financial need students and international students, who have a growing presence on campus.

“The impetus for adding these programs, both for international students and high financial aid students, has come out of the last several years’ experience, where it’s been clear that the College needs to do more to help these students make the transition,” said Dean Merrill.

She added that research conducted by the office of Mike Reed, vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity, has underscored that the earlier this help is given, the more beneficial it will be to both the student and the administration.

Merrill also acknowledged the role of Gina Coleman, associate dean and international student advisor. “Dean Coleman’s experience, as the international students’ advisor and as someone who’s been a centrally important advisor to many high need financial aid students, has also driven our decision to do things differently for the Class of 2012.”

The changes envisioned for this year comprise two separate pre-orientation programs, one for international students and one for high financial aid recipients. A key component of both programs is face-to-face advising on financial aid, to give students a more thorough understanding of the system and all the different details they need to bear in mind.

This goes directly against a 2002 initiative, which established a common time of arrival for all freshmen to foster class cohesion. The policy was adopted during Professor Nancy Roseman’s term as Dean of the College, replacing a previous model in which students arrived on different dates depending on their chosen EphVentures.

Roseman was supportive of the about-turn. “Programs that serve our constantly changing student body should periodically be reevaluated and reinvented as needed,” she said. ”Keeping things the same is much easier than change. The fact that Williams changes over time is testament to our willingness to do the hard and right things.”

Merrill agreed, “Since that 2002 decision, there has been a huge change in the population of Williams. We now have a critical mass of students on campus who are coming in with a very different context than is typically assumed,” she said. She noted that from the incoming first-years of the Class of 2008 to 2011, there has been a 52 percent increase in international students and a 44 percent increase in first-generation students, who now compose about 7 percent and 16 percent of the student body respectively.

Elaborating further on the necessity for change, Merrill pointed to a recent study titled “Documenting the ‘wealth gap’” published in the Princeton Alumni Weekly on April 2, which found that the socioeconomic differences on the Princeton campus often prevent students with low-income status from fully enjoying their college experience. According to the article, part of the problem is that most lower-income students are unfamiliar with Princeton’s social and academic life prior to arriving on campus; upper-income students were more likely to know someone who had attended the school and thus seemed more comfortable on campus, in turn making lower-income students feel excluded.

Merrill also mentioned that the College is beginning to re-evaluate how orientation as a whole works, so the new programs may not exist in the same form the following year. “That larger work of thinking about First Days will, of course, take up some of the questions that have been raised in the last couple months about diversity and inclusion – questions that have certainly existed for a while, but which have received much greater attention, and from a wider variety of people on campus, than before,” she said, adding that the detailed processes had not yet been finalized and are still in discussion throughout various administrative offices.