September 5, 2013
Brightly-clad Orientation Leaders dotted the top of the Hill on Aug. 24 bearing signs, screaming pop songs and dancing like no one was watching as they welcomed all 492 members of the class of 2017 to campus. Orientation had officially begun.
For the second year in a row, the Office of Residential Life ran the New Student Orientation (NSO) program, after the Student Activities Office passed the torch in 2012. According to Senior Associate Dean of Students Meredith Bonham, the change was a part of a “broad-based effort to reorganize responsibilities within the division of student affairs.”
In the reorganization, Bonham—who has worked at Hamilton for almost 20 years—was reassigned to the division of student affairs and given the task of overseeing Residential Life, working on the first year experience and, in turn, helping students transitioning to Hamilton. Bonham said, “The pieces really seemed to fall into place … for Residential Life to oversee [Orientation].”
With the change in leadership two years ago came a new vision for the program. According to Assistant Dean of Students for Residential Life Travis Hill, ResLife decided to focus on recruiting a representative group of OLs that well reflected the student body. ResLife also wanted to provide first-years with thorough alcohol education.
“We seek to do this through hiring OLs that will be good role models and training them to give a well-rounded picture of the alcohol culture on campus, and how students can make healthy choices,” Hill said.
Alcohol use has become a contentious issue on the Hamilton campus that culminated most recently in a report issued by the Campus Planning Committee in July. The report found that “94 percent of students feel that the atmosphere on campus encourages alcohol use and 58 percent feel pressured to drink.” It also revealed that 40 percent of students at Hamilton considered it a “party school” compared with 25 percent of students at peer schools.
“The College is dry during Orientation, and we have a very strict policy that the OLs may not partake in alcohol while Orientation is happening. We approach that policy seriously and we enforce it,” Bonham said, adding, “I would say we have enforced it more strictly than it has been in the past.”
Third-year Resident Advisor Ashley King ’14 found that she had to be stricter with her advisees this year regarding alcohol.
“I think that in the climate that our campus is in right now with the alcohol culture, we [as RAs] had to be a lot more serious than I’ve been in the past when I had that opening floor meeting,” King said.
Orientation Leaders also make sure to talk with their first-years about drinking, while providing a realistic representation of Hamilton’s social landscape.
“We make it a very important point for everyone that no matter what they choose to do, there is absolutely a place for everyone, and that this isn’t a college where people are judged for how they drink, or what they drink or how much they drink,” said OL Sarah Pfund ’14. “And then we move on to the people that do drink and we talk about how important it is to be responsible.”
Another priority of Hill’s when he took the lead on Orientation was finding “intentional ways of integrating RAs into Orientation to better forge their relationships with new students going into the academic year.” According to King, RAs became more involved in NSO 2012 by helping out with Color Wars—which “Hamlympics” replaced this year—as well as with the carnival. Like in past years, they also helped the new students move in on move-in day.
The RAs’ role in Orientation changed slightly for this year’s Orientation with the change in group activity and the addition of official “family dinners” with orientation groups, OLs and RAs. RAs remained involved in the Hamlympics, but the consolidation of this group activity into one three-hour period—as opposed to Color Wars’ two sessions—gave RAs more direct interaction with students, King said.
For the first dinner of Orientation, all the RAs ate dinner with one of the Orientation groups, and for the following nights of NSO, RAs of first-year buildings ate with their advisees and those advisees’ respective OLs for official “family dinners.” King saw the dinners as a positive addition to Orientation.
“Family dinners were really great this year because we could meet with a group of eight new students and get to know them, plus the orientation leaders,” King said, adding that it facilitated collaboration between OLs and RAs. “If the students asked a question, Orientation Leaders were more than willing to ask me, ‘Oh, what’s your take on this?’ too.”
This year’s NSO also included six faculty lectures by various Hamilton professors to introduce new students to the academic side of the College. Lecturers included Winslow Professor of Classics Carl Rubino, Stephen Harper Kirner Professor of Computer Science Stu Hirshfield, Professor of Geosciences Barbara Tewksbury, Assistant Professor of History John Eldevik, Professor of Economics Steve Wu and Professor of Music Lydia Hamessley. Eugene M. Tobin Distinguished Professor of Sociology Dan Chambliss also delivered a mandatory lecture titled “Having Serious Fun in College”: Educational Goals and the Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education.” Orientation Coordinator Jessica Moulite ’14 explained the rationale behind including lectures in Orientation.
“Although Orientation appears to be all fun and games, it’s also important for students to remember that they’re at Hamilton for a great education,” Moulite said. “By giving them an opportunity to experience a lecture in a discipline that they may not have been familiar with, these students are given the chance to truly dive into the open curriculum at Hamilton.”
Administrators and Orientation staff agreed that the lectures were a success.
“I was thrilled with how receptive the first-year students were to those lectures,” said Bonham. “They were really well-attended, which is I think is great because it’s a wonderful introduction to their coursework at the College.”
Now that orientation has come to a close, Bonham looks forward to reading feedback from this year’s first-years. She will look for ways to improve the program, which will be re-vamped as the College institutes the new First-Year Experience program.