I lived on Pembroke my first year — Woolley, to be specific — and I remember a unit-mate of mine calling me from the Main Green on the third day of school, asking me for directions to the Ratty. Thankfully, today I would be hard-pressed to name a building on campus that this friend could not locate, but back then he was completely lost.
This boy was lost in more ways than one; as are most first-years. When I arrived at Brown, I was nervous about meeting new friends and finding my way around campus. These worries were not trivial, yet the regular first-year orientation available to me did not allow the proper time to begin carving out my niche before the campus filled up with upperclassmen and I had to start shopping classes and doing schoolwork.
The class of 2013 has three days between the start of orientation and the start of classes. Three days is simply not enough time for an orientation; it's barely enough time to organize a new room and get to know one's neighbors.
The reasons behind a committee's 2007 decision to move orientation range from the unpersuasive to the absurd. (Take, for instance, committee member Karen McLaurin's '74 counterintuitive claim, described by The Herald, that the change to orientation would be positive because "in past years, students have not really had the chance to absorb their experiences … so it is good to give them a shorter window to absorb everything" ("OWC, U. officials plan for revamped orientation," Apr. 26, 2007).
A more understandable motive was the desire to strengthen the student-adviser relationship. With the old orientation, some advisers were not available to meet during the scheduled time. With the new one, they meet the day before classes begin. While this was a beneficial and necessary change, it has no bearing on the length of the rest of Orientation.
Of course, some freshmen enjoy the luxury of a proper orientation: freshmen that are chosen to participate in the Third World Transition Program, University Community Academic Advising Program, the International Student Orientation and Excellence at Brown have the chance at an orientation that resembles those available at other colleges and allows them the time to acclimate to their new home.
Priya Gaur '13 said, "Brown's short orientation doesn't necessarily pose a problem for me." But she admits, "I am participating in a pre-orientation program, so I am anticipating a little bit more adjustment time than others."
I was lucky to participate in a pre-orientation program known as Building Understanding Across Differences that accepted all applicants. It was through this program that I met several of my closest friends. It allowed me the perfect forum to get to know first-years from all over campus and discuss issues that interested me. It also gave me the advantage of knowing my way around campus by the time my unit-mates arrived.
BUAD no longer takes place as a pre-orientation program, and all other such programs place limits on the number or type of students that can enroll. Each of these programs is important, and I am not arguing for their removal. But it would be best to hold these pre-orientation programs in the early weeks of school, like the BUAD workshop is doing for the first time this year. This way, all freshmen would share a common bond from their first week or so at Brown before beginning to divide up along the lines defined by current pre-orientation programs.
With such limitations on enrollment in pre-orientation programs, not every student who would like to participate in one can do so. It is unfair of Brown to provide certain first-years with special access to the campus prior to the arrival of the rest of the school. Instead, Orientation for all students should be extended so as to afford every new Brown student the chance to get to know their new home.
Moreover, students become close with the people they meet during the first few days and weeks of college. If Brown allows for limited pre-orientation programs, then it hurts the dynamic of the class as a whole and implicitly encourages the exclusion of other Brown students.
The transition to college is hard for everyone. Just because a student does not fall into one of the categories delineated by current pre-orientation programs does not mean he or she should not have the opportunity to have a real orientation. It also does not mean that he or she should not have the opportunity to meet and befriend people who do have those interests.
"I have no problem, as yet, with the way the Brown orientation is set up, though it is eminently possible that I could have some problems once I experience it," Robert Black '13 said.
Perhaps once Black experiences Orientation he will agree with his fellow students; according to a Herald editorial from last spring, "200 polled students unanimously preferred the old Orientation to the new one" ("Expand orientation, move TWTP," Apr. 23). I hope that the administration takes this advice to heart and reconsiders the way Orientation is conducted.
Tory Hartmann '11 is a political science concentrator from Hillsborough, N.J. She can be reached at Victoria_Hartmann (at) brown.edu