The impending extinction of the FreshPerson Conference — which, barring a short-order philanthropic rescue, has seen its last late-summer days — is not overwhelmingly upsetting, though it is problematic. Now, incoming freshmen not drawn to Cultural Connections, interested in organic food, or up for extensive hiking will have no preorientation alternative, unless the University or Dwight Hall steps in.
While not a particularly popular program in recent years, the campy FPC has been a convenient catch-all among Yale’s overspecialized pre-college offerings. Its innocuous name-games and friendly bonfires appeal to a broad sweep of the freshman class; Harvest’s earthy farming activities do not. It is not geared toward minority students, as Cultural Connections is, and it does not require expensive outdoor gear and a commitment to at least four days of shower-free living like the Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips.
So for 41 years, FPC, which brought between 80 and 200 freshmen to a local camp for the days before Yale’s official orientation, has been the reasonable, affordable choice for first-year students who want to meet other first-year students before the frenetic opening days of school. It was Yale’s oldest orientation program, around in some form since 1961 and financed jointly by Dwight Hall and the Yale Chaplain’s Office. The three-day program cost students $220 — considerably more expensive than the narrowly focused Cultural Connections but considerably cheaper than FOOT, which offers limited financial aid.
But two years ago, Dwight Hall’s student Executive Committee voted to end support for FPC after the summer of 2002 because the program lacks a public service focus. Dwight Hall leaders also said the program was barely breaking even despite considerable financial support. Attendance rates have been dropping over the past few years, with only 87 students signing up for the 2002 conference at Camp Jewel in Colebrook.
Considering the circumstances, Dwight Hall’s decision to pull back funding is not unreasonable. But the absolute dearth of low-key orientation programs is.
Perhaps Dwight Hall will consider using the money it formerly allocated to FPC to finance a service-focused orientation program in New Haven, similar to or associated with the popular FOCUS program offered for rising sophomores. Many have said they wished FOCUS, which provides a thorough orientation to New Haven and a good opportunity to meet other Yalies, had been an option before their freshman year. It would not be a “lazy person’s alternative to FOOT,” as one student said he hoped FPC would be. More in line with Dwight Hall’s mission, a community service preorientation program likely would be affordable for and appealing to a large number of students.
If Dwight Hall declines to fund a new program, though, and if FPC fails to find a new backer, the University should consider lending support — either to the ailing FPC, which would be simplest, or toward the creation of a new program to fill the gap FPC will leave. Incoming Yalies do not necessarily need the option of dodgeball and talent shows before their freshman year, but they should have access to at least one reasonably priced and broadly focused preorientation program.