Life as an OAD: Lyla Rossi stresses campus involvement

0
264
courtesy photo / Lyla Rossi Lyla Rossi ‘20 reading with a member of the ARC of Greater Williamsburg.

Every fall, new students at the College of William and Mary step onto campus for orientation five days before classes begin. As they unload their parents’ cars, they are often met with cheering, yellow-shirted students who will act as orientation aides for the freshman and transfer students.  Although you won’t find her in a yellow shirt, Lyla Rossi ’20 will be among the many student volunteers greeting freshmen and transfers to the College. In previous years, Rossi served as a Transfer and More Orientation Aide, but she will instead don a black shirt this year as a Transfer and More Orientation Aide director. 

“Orientation is definitely a huge part of my life at William and Mary,” Rossi said. “[Orientation] sparked my interest in continuing to contribute to the community we have here, because it’s special to me and has really formed who I am now and has made me into the person I am, so I kind of wanted to turn around the saber and continue trying to foster a community for people who necessarily might not be immediately welcomed at our school.” 

Dubbing herself a “nerd for imperial culture,” Rossi is double majoring in anthropology and sociology at the College. Rossi’s focus on people-centered majors compelled her to complete research on Native American cultures, which was later featured at the College’s Muscarelle Museum of Art. Her research highlighted Native American rugs and ceramics and investigated the artifacts’ symbolism.

Rossi enjoys her work as an OAD because it allows her to work with her peers, both at the College and around Williamsburg. Transferring the skills she learned as an OAD to other aspects of her life, Rossi became involved in volunteer work with the Merrimac Mentors, an organization that works with residents at the local juvenile detention center.

“[Merrimac Mentors] has become a real passion project of mine,” Rossi said. “I’ve learned a lot about how to connect to someone else, and relate to someone else, from very different backgrounds and places of privilege.” 

“[Merrimac Mentors] has become a real passion project of mine,” Rossi said. “I’ve learned a lot about how to connect to someone else, and relate to someone else, from very different backgrounds and places of privilege.” 

In addition to Merrimac Mentors, Rossi also collaborates with the ARC of Greater Williamsburg, where she works with adults with disabilities. Rossi added that her volunteer work and her role as an OAD have been integral learning experiences in her life. 

“I have found a community through them, learned to relate to another person, be present for another person, and just have fun with another person.”

Rossi interviewed to be an OA for her junior year partially so she could challenge the idea that there was only one type of orientation aide. To her, anyone can be an OA as long as they are comfortable openly sharing their perspectives.

“There was an idea that you have to be super loud and super personable and super bubbly to be an OA, and I kind of wanted to change that single narrative to say that any person that wants to be an OA can be one, because if you can impart knowledge or share a perspective to a new student, then that’s all you need to be an OA,” Rossi stated.

As an OAD, Rossi wants to make sure that transitions for incoming students go smoothly. She and other OADs have been working to prepare for the arrival of new students since February, when the process of hiring OAs started.

“These are the people who usher [new students] into the school year,” Rossi said. “OAs are half of the importance of orientation — the other half being the new students, of course — so the interviewing and selection of potential orientation aides is long and tedious.”

“These are the people who usher [new students] into the school year,” Rossi said. “OAs are half of the importance of orientation — the other half being the new students, of course — so the interviewing and selection of potential orientation aides is long and tedious.”

Throughout the summer, Rossi said that OADs have worked towards preparing for OA training, new student arrival, and “getting swag together” in expectation of the busy August orientation season. Rossi also stressed the importance of taking time for yourself outside of work and activities, both for orientation volunteers and new students alike.

There are varied opinions on the College’s unique orientation schedule, which consists of an intense five days before the first day of classes, compared to other universities that offer a standard one or two day orientation during the summer.

“It’s such an overwhelming time, both students and OAs are going from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Rossi said. “For a lot of students hanging out with your hall 24/7 rushing from one place to the next is not a thrive zone; it’s just not what’s best.” 

However, Rossi argues that the College’s method of orientation prioritizes community more than other university orientation programs and that bonding through hallmates rather than a random group of classmates that may never even see each other again is a special experience. Rossi noted that these aspects of the five-day orientation make it a superior system, despite the occasional bouts of stress that it may foster. 

Rossi hopes that new students feel they belong at the College after orientation, just as she did after her own experience with the program.

She remembers interacting continuously with her 17 hall mates those five days of orientation and the friendships she formed during that time. Being with her hallmates so consistently, Rossi was left with the feeling of being part of something bigger and finding a community. 

“Feel strengthened by who you are in the sense that your community will find you, and you will find your right community,” Rossi said. “You don’t need to be someone you’re not. You are in charge of your own happiness and don’t forget that.” 

“Feel strengthened by who you are in the sense that your community will find you, and you will find your right community,” Rossi said. “You don’t need to be someone you’re not. You are in charge of your own happiness and don’t forget that.”