Orientation alters diversity conversations, registration times

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The College of William and Mary aims to provide a more inclusive orientation experience for incoming students. COURTESY / WM.EDU

In the ever-changing social, political and educational landscapes of college campuses across the country, it is customary that universities continue adapting to changes while simultaneously preparing their students for success. At the College of William and Mary, following this trend meant offering a more inclusive orientation experience, one that offers opportunities for people varying backgrounds to come together in more ways than they had ever before.  

These changes began affecting students before they even arrived at campus. For the first time, the College opened up class registration windows over the summer. Students had the chance to register for up to 12 credits before even stepping foot on campus.  

“This year, we had the chance to register for classes earlier,” Diego Cruzado ’23 said. “I think this took a lot of unnecessary stress off of our shoulders when there is already a lot going on with the whole orientation process. It was great only having to worry about the experience and not the stress of registration.”  

The next step in altering orientation was supplementing existing conversations on an assortment of undiscussed subjects, including depression, cultural identity and issues of sexual misconduct. 

This step took form in the open discussion and performances of “One Tribe, Many Stories,” an event aimed to discussing the diversity and different lived experiences of the College’s community. 

“[This year,] additional performances were added to ‘One Tribe, Many Stories’ to be increasingly inclusive to the diverse experiences that many incoming students can relate to,” Orientation Aide Blair Houska ’21 said.

“[This year,] additional performances were added to ‘One Tribe, Many Stories’ to be increasingly inclusive to the diverse experiences that many incoming students can relate to,” Orientation Aide Blair Houska ’21 said. “Not only were these performances extremely moving, but they provoked dialogue conversation on topics that normally either aren’t discussed or are difficult to talk about.”  

The performances were done through film and live interpretation. Following the performances, Orientation Aides led their independent halls in private, confidential conversations.  

“The ‘One Tribe, Many Stories’ segment of orientation definitely had a well-rounded, all-encompassing feel to it,” Cruzado said. “I not only feel like I grew closer to my peers, I also feel like we have all grown as people, through listening, empathizing and sharing.”  

These open discussions allowed for the new peers to not only learn from each other, but to also learn more about themselves, according to several new freshman.  

“Both of my parents attended William and Mary and so I’ve grown up knowing about the ‘One Tribe, One Family’ mentality,” Annie Tuttle ’23 said. “It wasn’t until I got to go through these sessions and orientation process until I gained a genuine understanding of what they meant, and honestly I couldn’t be any happier.” 

During orientation, new students compared their experiences to those of their family members, who learned about different topics and participated in unique conversations during their orientation period. 

“A couple years ago, when my sister went through William and Mary orientation, she really emphasized how the experience had prepared her for the academic piece of life here at the College. While I feel like I now have a better understanding of the academic side of school, I also have a pretty good sense of belonging,” Cruzado said.  

Alongside the positives of these orientation changes, the five-day experience came with a matching amount of lows for some students, according to OAs, students and staff.   

“I think the most difficult part of orientation was the long days and strenuous schedules,” Tuttle said. “But, knowing that we were all going through it together made me feel closer to my class and only offered more perspective.”

“I think the most difficult part of orientation was the long days and strenuous schedules,” Tuttle said. “But, knowing that we were all going through it together made me feel closer to my class and only offered more perspective.”  

As perspectives changed and connections formed, OAs got to watch as the students they first led through icebreakers found their sense of belonging at the College.  

“I always talk about how much I love this school because of how strong the William and Mary community is, but I don’t think I’ve ever fully realized how impactful it can be until being an OA,” Houska said. “Between my co-Orientation Aides, staff, amazing OAD and the office of First Year Experiences, there is so much passion, care and commitment put in to ensuring the well-being of the incoming class as well as the well-being of each other. It’s definitely a tiring five days, but so extremely fulfilling to see a group of students go from trying to learn each other’s names with a first day icebreaker to walking out of Wren together during convocation, becoming a part of the William and Mary community themselves.”