September 5, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 5  

Front Page >> News > Looking at the changing face of O-Week


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Looking at the changing face of O-Week

By Kelly Marcella and Maggie Wrobel
Gazette Staff


Dallas Curow/Gazette
WHERE'S MY WATER WINGS? University Students' Council President Paul Yeoman was soaked when dropped into the dunk-tank on Concrete Beach, fulfilling every students fantasy to see a politician in hot water.

Orientation Week - some would argue what used to be the epitome of the "college" experience has in many ways faded to a shadow of its former self.

With the onslaught of the double cohort, the first-year class participating in this year's O-Week activities has been the largest ever accommodated at Western. As a result, O-Week has undergone many structural and organizational changes to help facilitate the transition to university life for this younger incoming class.

Changes to O-Week are nothing new, as every year the program is reassessed in hopes of improving the frosh experience. The entire program has been dry (alcohol free) since 2000, which has helped in accommodating the younger first-year class this year.

This past year, the formation of the Orientation Strategic Planning Group - consisting of members of the university's administration and the University Students' Council - has made a concerted attempt to formalize and improve these changes on a larger level.

With all of the changes being implemented, the question arises - are frosh getting the "real" university experience or are they being shortchanged?

"We don't want to sanitize O-Week," said USC President Paul Yeoman, noting all those involved in the program's planning want to ensure safety for the students.

"There is definitely an effort to sanitize the introduction to university as much as possible to make it safe," said Chris Sinal, an OSPG member, current Huron University College soph and former USC president. "However the pendulum has already swung so far that we create this environment where swearing doesn't exist, alcohol doesn't exist and sex doesn't exist."

Susan Grindrod, associate vice-president of housing and ancillary services, said with the size of the incoming first year class, changes had to be made to accommodate these students. She added that given the age of the incoming class, alcohol accessibility was a major concern for administration.

Grindrod stated there are a growing number of student leaders that offer excellent guidance for first-year students.

The changes to this year's O-Week coincide with the upcoming release of the OSPG's final report. According to Matt Huether, USC VP-student affairs, the focus of this year's O-Week was on building communities. In past years, relations between administration and the USC have been strained, however Huether said both sides have attempted to keep communication lines open and work together.

Problems in last year's program, such as the potential elimination of faculty sophs from O-Week programming, have been resolved with faculty sophs paired with small groups of students instead of specific residence floors. Also, for the first time residence staff have been asked to participate in O-Week activities in an attempt to improve relations between the USC-directed sophs and the Housing employees.

Huether said at first there was some resistance from sophs about the introduction of residence staff to O-Week activities, but he has not yet heard any complaints.

According to Yeoman, many of the changes in the structure of Orientation activities have been put into place due to safety and liability issues.

Some of these changes seem to echo the current trend of regulating most university sponsored events with stricter new rules, as exemplified by last year's introduction of the controversial Alcohol Policy. Over the course of the past few years, events such as the infamous "Engineering Movie Night" have been eliminated from O-Week programming.

According to Sinal, student leaders are as responsible as administration is for the "sanitization" of O-Week activities. "Sophs look at frosh during O-Week like children," he said, comparing the week to a camp-like experience.

"[Frosh] are younger and are more naive. I don't feel like I'm babysitting but at times I feel like I'm mothering them," said health sciences soph and third-year student Jessica Summerfield, adding she thought frosh are too young to get the whole "university" experience.

First-year kinesiology student Anne Wagner said she has had a good O-Week experience, noting everyone involved has been helpful and encouraging.

The release of the upcoming OSPG report will help determine the direction of future O-Weeks from those in charge of its organization. "Only by listening to [frosh] will we know if [the changes are] working," Sinal noted.



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