Now that we’ve reached the October break benchmark and have gotten into the second half of the semester, I think I’ve spent enough time as a freshman to look back on the orientation program and how much it assisted me in getting accustomed to Vassar life. Orientation week seemed perfectly adequate when Vassar was a completely new environment and I didn’t have any close friends yet. However, now that I have really acclimated to the environment where I’ll be spending the next four years, I’ve realized that the orientation programs left out some really important things, while overemphasizing others.
This is not meant to criticize any student fellows or other students who helped with orientation, but more to comment on the program as a whole. Firstly, I’d like to note that I am grateful that topics of gender and sexuality were given a lot of attention, as ignorance regarding these issues gives way to marginalization on all college campuses. However, there are some topics I wish were given more attention in order to better prepare freshmen for the beginning of their college experience.
Again, I agree wholeheartedly that sexuality and gender issues are very important and should be discussed regularly. At Vassar, I think we are lucky that these topics are embraced and not disregarded like they may be at other college campuses. I know now that issues concerning identity are regularly examined at Vassar because people can easily feel disrespected and oppressed, but, looking back on orientation about two months later, it feels like sexuality and gender dominated the discussions that took place. These things were a large part of at least three orientation events, such as “Gays of Our Lives,” and even though they were discussed so frequently, questions were still left unanswered. There was a lot of terminology that was widely used during orientation, but not initially explained, such as the difference between gay and queer, or cis and trans. Events regarding gender and sexuality were presented as if everyone had the same experience with these topics, but it needs to be taken into account that some people are very familiar with them, but to some people, they are fairly novel. A program eventually took place where these new terms were clarified, but programs that had happened prior were not absorbed to their full potential because of this misunderstanding.
Many discussions involving drugs, alcohol, safe sex and sexual consent took place, which I agree are prevalent issues and imperative for a college orientation, but there were a range of topics that were mostly left out. We were educated about how to navigate Vassar outside of the classroom, but conduct in an academic setting was disregarded. Throughout the first few weeks of classes, my friends and I realized that there were some things we weren’t exactly sure how to go about. What is the proper, respectful way to email a professor? Can I ask for an extension on an assignment? These are some of the important questions that weren’t answered during orientation and would have been helpful throughout the first few weeks of classes.
Another topic that I wish had gotten more attention is Vassar’s basic rules and regulations. I realize that these rules are readily available in the handbook or through asking someone, but there are likely very few freshmen that read through the rules in the lengthy handbook, and therefore were unaware of some important protocols. There are some regulations that new students just wouldn’t think to be cautious about. I was obviously aware that drugs and alcohol were something to be careful about, but I had no idea about a fire code rule, or only being able to have a small number of people in a dorm room. This, and other rules like it, is something of which every freshman should’ve been made aware during orientation.
After speaking to a lot of my friends about these issues throughout the first half of the semester, it seems like one complaint was just that not much of the information provided was Vassar-specific. A lot of the programs were informative, but not in the sense that they taught us how to survive at this school in particular. A possible program to be added could be common Vassar issues and how to navigate through them. It took me a few weeks to figure out the difference between VCash and Dining Bucks and where they could be used because some simple topics like this were not discussed, or were discussed too vaguely.
Lastly, I found that the whole orientation process didn’t really facilitate making friends. A lot of events were planned with our fellow groups, and it was nice to have that group with which to be comfortable, but I had to try really hard to meet people outside of my fellow group. Almost all of orientation was informational sessions and activities, rather than social events, so it was necessary to put in extra effort if I wanted to meet more people. Orientation for future classes should definitely have more social events available, maybe at nighttime, so that freshmen who are away from home for the first time and nervous to approach new classmates don’t have to resort to spending the night in their rooms.
What I liked about orientation was that it presented topics to me that hadn’t been discussed much in my hometown. However, I wish that these topics had been approached as if they were completely new to everyone. Many things about orientation were helpful, but I wish additional topics had been talked about, and I hope they are for future freshman classes.
—Sarah Sandler ’18 is currently undeclared.