Essential first year initiatives create lasting bonds for students

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COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

On a weekday evening, two dozen sleep-deprived girls from my freshman hall piled into a musty classroom in the basement of Morton Hall. Characterized by its cinder-block walls, an abundance of steep staircases and strange odors, Morton is often a source of complaints from students at the College of William and Mary.

We left the comfort of our dorm rooms in order to complete one of our Essential First-Year Initiatives — a series of small-group seminars attended by every new student. Having missed our first session during the hurricane evacuation, none of us really knew what to expect from this mandatory event. With midterms and major essays quickly approaching, we were irritated by this interruption of our study time.

However, in spite of these sour feelings, every resident showed up on time and ready for what was to come from the first Essential First-Year Initiative. The session began with an introduction from the two upperclassmen who facilitated the discussion, as every attendee was given a pin with our preferred pronouns.

The theme of this session was diversity advocacy and education. Having the entire freshman hall together in one room reminded me of the various community sessions throughout Orientation, which often covered topics like inclusion, mental health and healthy relationships.

Flipping through a PowerPoint packed with information, the diversity peer educators tried their best to keep us engaged (and awake) with questions and dynamic examples. While the presentation was somewhat informative, the activity afterward had an incredible impact on many of us. We were invited to share our truths and “step in” to the circle with those we related to. Insecurities, personal struggles, identities and feelings were poured out in the circle, although these admissions were largely self-guided.

Although awkward silences were prevalent, our hall bonded over our shared experiences and benefited greatly from the format of the session. While I don’t think any of the information presented was new, bonds between hallmates were absolutely strengthened as a result of the Essential First-Year Initiative.

Email Olivia Koenig at ojkoenig@email.wm.edu.