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Mount Holyoke to start white student orientation

Mount Holyoke College will start an expanded pre-orientation program this fall for white students from the U.S. focusing on race and social justice issues to complement its existing programs for minority and international students.

In creating the program, the college will reorganize its existing pre-orientation system to maximize interaction between different groups of students, said Elizabeth Braun, dean of students at Mount Holyoke.

The new program, will be titled,"Promoting Intercultural Dialogue and Creating Inclusion" and will include international students, domestic students of color and domestic white students. Participants will spend roughly half the time in their respective "affinity groups" and the rest of the time together in one large orientation group, Braun said.

In the past, Mount Holyoke — a women's liberal arts college in South Hadley, Mass. — has held a mandatory international pre-orientation program and an optional program for domestic students of color titled "Passages." These programs were much like Brown's international pre-orientation and Third World Transition Program.

Yet, unlike TWTP, domestic white students were not allowed to attend Passages.
Starting this fall, all incoming freshmen at Mount Holyoke will be invited to the pre-orientation programs, which will have a section targeted towards domestic white students. 

Braun said the program has three main goals.

"Students will work on deepening their self-understanding of individual identity issues and cross-cultural identity awareness, increase their sensitivity to the complexity of racial and ethnic groups as well as their own and then really start to develop strong communication and leadership skills," she said.

Braun said the school is not creating three separate programs but rather reorganizing the existing programs to include domestic white students.

The reorganization of the pre-orientation is related to the college's current initiative to promote "inter-group dialogue" that "brings groups of people together where there may have been historical conflicts."

Topics of previous programs included race, class, sexuality and religion. Braun said the college has found success with this model, which helps bring students together to discuss difficult issues.

There have been many different responses to the planned re-organization so far, Braun said, but generally the response has been mostly positive.

Clarisse Bautista, a Mount Holyoke freshman who participated in the college's Passages program, said she believes the new program will be effective.

"We as a minority have our own issues but I feel like white Americans have their own issues as well," she said. "I feel that everyone goes through that feeling of, ‘you're kind of not welcome.'"

Louise To, also a freshman at Mount Holyoke and a member of the Passages planning board, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that she believes the program is "a great way to spread more awareness on the issues of race and to promote inclusiveness."

The program aims to "strike the balance between individual students' needs," but also creates "opportunities to build connection and community and work on those leadership skills," Braun said. 

 The college has stressed that the program is a pilot and is open to change.

"For me, the most important part is that we are honoring all our students and that we're trying to create opportunities for all of our students to engage with diverse communities and connect with one another," Braun said.

Yet at Brown, where all students are allowed to attend TWTP, the idea of a pre-orientation program that includes three separate sub-groups did not resonate with some students.

Lauren Krumeich '11, a white student who attended TWTP, said she would not be in favor of a separated pre-orientation program because she would not be able to interact with students from different backgrounds.

"I feel like hearing their stories is what made it so successful for me," she said.


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