Freshman programs get a closer look



Beneath the dark elms of Old Campus on a breezy August night, jittery freshman stand in isolated clusters. While strobe lights from a dance tent illuminate a circle of FOOTies, a nearby clump of Cultural Connection participants move to the echoing music and Harvesters fresh off the farm strain their voices over the din.

A brief glimpse of the “Freshman Dance Party” on the first night of freshman orientation provides evidence of the important role preorientation programs play in the lives of many freshman. For a nervous freshman, a small huddle of bonded compatriots contains the only familiar faces in a strange new environment, and for many students, that group is the beginning of a larger network of college friends and acquaintances.

“I can name a list of people that I met at FreshPerson Conference when I was a freshman,” Aaron Krinsky ’03 said. “We still reminisce.”

In order to ensure that these programs are fulfilling their original missions and doing an adequate job of acclimating freshmen to Yale life, the Yale College Council and the Freshman College Council plan to review all preorientation programs beginning this semester, said representatives of the YCC and FCC.

The YCC has passed a proposal to create a Committee to Evaluate Freshman Pre-Orientation Programs at Yale by the end of February, YCC representatives Nirupam Sinha ’05 and Lindsey Parker ’04 said. The committee will create a written report of its findings, including possible reforms, which will be reviewed by members of Yale’s administration, Sinha said.

At the same time, the FCC plans to conduct a poll of current freshman about their experiences on the preorientation programs within the next month, said Tiffany Clay ’06, chairwoman of the FCC.

The activities of the YCC and FCC come at a time of transition for Yale’s preorientation programs. Dwight Hall, which has sponsored FreshPerson Conference in the past, announced in a September 2002 letter that it will end its support of the program. Should Yale’s original preorientation program, FPC, be permanently cancelled, Yale’s four other programs — Cultural Connections, Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips, or FOOT, Harvest, and Orientation for the Yale College International Students, or OIS — will be the only opportunities freshmen have to ease into college life.

Although preorientation programs have existed at Yale since 1961, Yale College has never completed a comprehensive, written evaluation of the programs, Sinha said.

“It’s an issue that has been floating around for the past number of years,” Parker said. “We’re hoping this is a long-term review that will have follow-up.”

The committee will tackle such issues as communication and cooperation among the programs, and funding and administrative support, the proposal said.

All preorientation programs currently have different sponsors. The Yale College Dean’s Office organizes Cultural Connections, and the Office of International Students and Scholars is responsible for OIS. FOOT and Harvest, an umbrella program of FOOT, are entirely student-run and financially independent of the University, while Dwight Hall sponsored FPC in the past.

No collective mission statement for the programs currently exists, and program organizers frequently do not coordinate their efforts.

FPC suffered from declining enrollment in recent years partially because students received the application at a later date than the other programs’ applications, said Aleksandra Kopec ’04, a co-coordinator of FPC.

“From what I understand, there isn’t one consolidated mailing,” said Saveena Dhall, assistant dean of Yale College and administrative leader of Cultural Connections.

Program fees can also affect the popularity of certain programs.

FOOT, Harvest, FPC and OIS cost students between $200 and $310, while Dhall said Cultural Connections charges students only $10. FOOT and Harvest offer outdoor alternatives which require the purchase or rental of expensive equipment, Kopec said.

FOOT Co-coordinator Emma Ashburn ’04 said the cost of FOOT limits the program’s socioeconomic diversity. Currently, the program is investigating methods of reducing costs, such as the creation of a clothing bank.

“We’re trying to look at different ways to increase diversity,” Ashburn said.

While FOOT and Harvest struggle with diversity, Cultural Connections is only open to black, Asian-American, Latino, and Native American freshman.

“The program has been traditionally for students of color, and we’ve stayed with that tradition,” Dhall said.

Some FOOT and Harvest leaders wish that more minority students would choose to come on their programs.

“A lot of minority students go on Cultural Connections for reasons that make sense,” Harvest leader Nir Harish ’05 said. “But at the same time, it seems like that prevents them from being able to do the other preorientation programs.”

Dhall said the numbers tell a different story.

“If students of color are about 33 percent of the incoming class, 125 [minority students attending Cultural Connections] is really a small number,” she said.

But Cultural Connections’ minority focus remains an issue of contention. Although Clay said the FCC does not intend to target any one preorientation program in its poll, another freshman associated with FCC said Cultural Connections’ minority focus was the central issue that lead to the FCC’s decision to conduct the freshman poll.

“I think the spirit of the program is to allow minority students to have a program to meet each other,” said Ronald Mackey ’03, who served as a Cultural Connections aide two summers ago.

Leaders of FOOT and Cultural Connections said cooperation among the programs has increased in recent years. Dhall said a joint barbecue and other cooperative ventures have allowed for interaction between the different programs.

“I think there’s been a real culture of collaboration,” she said.

The YCC’s committee will also evaluate the need for expansion of the programs. According to the proposal, many students believe there are not enough options for incoming freshmen, especially with the likely termination of FPC.

With FPC potentially out of the mix, freshman looking for a more laid-back alternative to FOOT or Harvest will be out of luck.

FPC group leader Krinsky, who had reconstructive knee surgery at the end of his senior year of high school, said that he changed from FOOT to FPC because of his injury.

“Let’s say that happened to me now,” he said. “Where would I go?”

The YCC will choose representatives for the committee from each of the preorientation programs through an application and interview process, Sinha said, and will begin meeting at the end of February.

Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said while she did not feel that such an evaluation was important enough to do herself, she supports the YCC’s actions.

“I’ll be interested in seeing the results,” she said.

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