Making the freshmen transition

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August 29, 2008

1:01 PM

Faquier hall freshmen and orientation aides crossed the Sunken Garden under blazing sunlight, already knee-deep in seminars on topics ranging from academics to sexual assault, anticipating yet another hall mixer. It’s Saturday, Aug. 23, and the day is ripe for Freshman Orientation.

After mixing up the two girls’ halls and dividing them into teams, Alex Pouille ’11, an OA for Fauquier, prepped his team for the game of capture the flag that was about to ensue.

“Let’s make friends, and work together, and win this for our team,” Pouille said. “Can we find a way to be a distinctive team? Can we roll up our sleeves or have a code word or something?”

“Actually, yeah,” Natty Montoya ’11, another OA for Fauquier, said as he rolled up his shirt sleeves. “Let’s work on our tans.”
The freshman girls approached the center of the field, then continued to stand in bewilderment as they faced one another. Most people on the team had yet to even learn the names of their teammates, so there were a few minutes of hesitation before things picked up.

“The OAs kind of had to break the barrier,” Dani Derringer ’09, another OA for Fauquier, said after the game. The four OAs across the Garden would periodically break into a call-and-response chant — OAs would shout “Botetourt,” followed by the freshmen response “is fresh” — as a way of motivating the freshmen. OAs were usually the first to do anything, whether it was charging for the flag or pushing for a more creative strategy.

“We try to put [the freshmen] in situations where they’re forced to talk,” Montoya said. “I think because we were really excited about it, they sort of fed off of us.”

Orientation weekend — which takes place each year on the five days before classes start — provides freshmen with the time they need to more comfortably transition to life at the College of William and Mary. Orientation aides provide them with the proper tools for that transition, whether it’s tips for dealing with a sultry roommate or instructions for placing a work order.

Though Derringer and Montoya shared a desire to ease that transition, they each had different reasons for becoming OAs. While Montoya looked to recreate the friendly atmosphere provided by his own OAs when he was a freshman, Derringer hoped to bring something more to the table.

“My OAs did exactly what was asked of them, but for the job we’re asked to do, that’s not enough,” Derringer said. “You have to go above and beyond what you’re physically asked to do.”

The training sessions for OAs involved everything from statistics concerning campus drug and alcohol use to meetings with dining services, where they were briefed on efforts to accommodate food allergies and to provide healthier meals. With each session, OAs were provided with an in-depth look at a variety of potential concerns for both students and parents.

Training sessions also included staged scenarios, where OAs were required to console distressed parents and students portrayed by actors.

“They throw you into these awful situations and you start freaking out, but that’s how you learn,” Pouille said. “You learn by freaking out.”

The more social aspects of orientation were coupled with programs intended to prepare freshmen for the difficulties of college life. Before the mixer in the Sunken Garden, the Fauquier group took a seat in the shade by Phi Beta Kappa Hall to discuss the morning’s academics seminar.

After reviewing the points of the seminar, which dealt with the gravity of the honor code and the consequences of lying and cheating, the OAs went over a series of scenarios, one of which described a student who knows about her boyfriend’s plan to cheat on an exam.

“It’s not just between you and him,” Derringer said, after asking whether the hypothetical student should turn in her boyfriend. “It’s really the entire community that you have to stick up for.”

The rest of the seminars, which dealt with diversity at the College as well as sex and alcohol abuse, also focused on the communal importance of individual actions made by students.

“The information that’s given during talks like this is irreplacable,” Derringer said afterwards. “I love the College. It’s the community that I’m supposed to be a part of, and I love sharing that with other people.”

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