Orientation explores identity

Many upperclassmen think back to their first week at Vassar with trepidation and excitement. Almost every student on this campus has experienced the awkwardness that is Freshman Orientation. But this year, those in charge of orientation decided to incoroporate  somenew events and activities as well as  revamp some of the others meant to better familiarize the freshman  with Vassar and help them to understand how they fit into the campus in regards to their identity  .

For example,last year, Vassar’s Class of 2016 was welcomed with the event “I Am Vassar” which was meant as an exercise to help the freshman class  feel more comfortable with their over 600 fellow classmates. This year, student fellows  were asked to participate in an “Identity Wheel” exercise before attending “I Am Vassar” in order to first introduce their freshman to the idea of a complicated identity .

“I feel that the changes made pull the purpose of orientation into the right direction,” stated Vice President for Student Life Genesis Hernandez ’15. “While it was of course wonderful that so much time is spent on educating incoming students on safe drinking and consent,  there was/is a necessity to discuss how to navigate difference on campus and understanding the myriad of identities that one may encounter while on campus.” The new orientation activities were breaking ground for the College as far as  actually addressing  some of the potentially forgotten parts of a person’s identity.

“I think the freshman really liked the identity aspects of it,” stated Strong student fellow Cari Goldfine ’16. “I personally was a little concerned to be doing the identity wheel on the second day of orientation—I felt like it might be hard for them to open up and share in a meaningful way with a group of almost strangers.”

But many student fellows said they were surprised to see how much their freshmen were willing to divulge about their feelings of identity,  and that the pre-event exercise appeared to help create an open environment and mindset for them to walk into the chapel with .

“Viewing from the sidelines, I would say there is a certain level of comfort shown within most freshmen,” stated Jewett student fellow Priscilla Yevoo ’16. “They know their different identities and acknowledge their privileges; hence, they find comfort in knowing they won’t be judged or persecuted for being different since everyone in a way is different.”

These events have the potential to be a way to lay the groundwork for a safer and healthier campus life, especially in the wake of last year’s issues with hate incidents around campus.

The college also added the new event, “Who Is Vassar?”, which was structured as a panel discussion of alumnae/i discussing institutional memory and how one’s voice can be transformative for the conversations on campus. As a growing project, “Who Is Vassar?” has been worked on by multiple people  throughout Vassar’s history but was changed this year with help from Giselle Sanchez-Huerta ’16 and Davison House Fellow Intern Alejandro McGhee ’16.

“The SOS theme was very important to me,” stated McGhee. “What I really care about is continuing to question who Vassar has in mind when it develops the orientation program that it does. It will do well if it continues to listen to marginalized voices to fund orientation programs like ‘Who Is Vassar.’” McGhee alongside Sanchez-Huerta worked with many individuals on campus, including Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity Pittman and Director for the Campus Life ALANA Center  Luz Burgos-Lopez to help revamp “Who Is Vassar?” The project itself is a an example of what can come out of an open dialogue and ongoing conversations with members of the VC community, both past and present.

The college is set on finding ways to better address preconceived notions, stereotypes and racist ideas as early as possible. The new orientation events and talks were a way to head off these faulty thought processes before classes even begin .

“It is so important to address these issues early on in the college experience,” said McGhee. “Like many have been saying, people come to Vassar carrying a lot of ‘baggage’ from the outside. Maybe they will come here thinking a certain oppressive way of thinking is just and right when, in reality, it is not. Those types of thinking need to be challenged as soon as possible before social groups solidify.”

The college will continue to try to adjust and change freshman orientation from year to year in order to better accommodate each class and its students. “I believe that this programming should never be exactly the same year after year,” stated Hernandez. “With every incoming class, there are new perspectives and new identities entering our campus. With that in mind, the programming for orientation week should be constantly evolving and adapting to fit the needs of the students.”

While each year’s orientation continues to adapt , the Vassar community will continue to grow as a result of the college’s proactive approach dealing with identities of all types on campus. The long-term effects of each new orientation activity are unknown, but ultimately the revamping of certain orientation events shows an effort to help to create a safer and more conscious campus for every member of Vassar.

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