Univ. to reevaluate freshman orientation

The University is conducting a comprehensive evaluation of the year’s opening days in the hopes of making freshman orientation a more welcoming time for new students and their parents, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said.

The review spans the entire spectrum of freshman orientation activities, from the freshman assembly and address to preorientation programs that introduce freshmen to their future surroundings and classmates, Gentry said. He said the goal of the evaluation, which he undertook after arriving at the beginning of this academic year, is to explore training of orientation leaders, ways to keep parents more involved and this year’s introduction of an outside keynote speaker during the freshman assembly.

The administration will use informal surveys and assessments to gauge students’ thoughts about how to create a meaningful and engaging orientation process, Gentry said.

“It’s not that it’s bad, but part of the process of making things better is seeing where we are now,” Gentry said.

Among the issues being examined will be Yale’s unprecedented effort to engage freshmen in dialogue over important campus issues before their arrival in New Haven. During orientation this August, Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum delivered a keynote address centered on her book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”

Over the summer, the dean’s office mailed over 1,300 copies of Tatum’s book to incoming freshmen. After her address, members of the class of 2011 met in groups with their freshman counselors to discuss race and Tatum’s controversial definition of racism.

While the address marked a departure from Yale tradition — it was unprecedented for a non-Yale speaker to deliver the keynote freshman address — Gentry said he thinks it succeeded in raising the level of consciousness and dialogue among freshmen about race relations.

“We need to be more comfortable with these kinds of discussions [about race],” Gentry said. “It’s a part of life, a part of growing up, a part of being educated.”

One freshman said this year’s speaker did not live up to all of his expectations.

“I appreciated the goal of bringing in a speaker who was controversial and who would spark debate,” Robert Finley ’11 said. “But I don’t think she was really a dynamic presenter. She didn’t stir up as much controversy as she could have.”

Andrew Williams ’11 said the address was useful in facilitating discussions among freshmen with diverse backgrounds.

Gentry said he would also like to expand offerings for parents during the opening days. While freshmen are shuttled off to a seemingly endless stream of bazaars, seminars and social functions, parents can sometimes get lost in the shuffle, Gentry said. He said he hopes the evaluation will generate more events “just for parents” in the coming year.

This year’s orientation program featured several functions for parents on Friday, Aug. 31 — including receptions at residential college master’s houses and an information session on security at Yale — but there was virtually nothing afterwards tailored to parents.

The evaluation will also examine the role and training of upperclassmen, such as freshman counselors and Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip leaders, who interact with and mentor freshmen from the moment they arrive on campus.

In light of new Connecticut state alcohol laws that went into effect last October, Gentry also said the review may prompt the administration to revise the freshman counselor application in order to make the responsibilities of the position “perfectly clear.”

Administrators said they hope to actively involve students in the review process.

“The idea is to get input from those who experienced [orientation],” Gentry said.

Regardless of any changes the dean’s office may make, some freshmen said the opening days of college will remain a stressful time.

Matthew Zuckerman ’11 said he recognizes that administrators went to great lengths to ease the transition from high school to college by organizing a series of informational events, but Orientation was still “an inherently tough time.”

Alan Cole ’11 said the large quantities of information with which freshmen are barraged during orientation simply cannot capture the real joys and difficulties of moving from high school to college.

“The whole experience of living at college is so different from living at home,” Cole said. “There’s no way [the University] can really encapsulate the experience in presentations.”

Gentry said the Dean’s Office hopes to complete the evaluation around Thanksgiving break.

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