O-Week evolves from debauchery to dry fun

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

History File: Orientation Week

IT CLEARLY WAS A MAGIC CARPET RIDE. Ah, Orientation Week decades ago. Back when personal computers were non-existent, the Cold War was a recent memory and only sailors used condoms.

Once upon a time, long before the Internet or computers, Orientation Week was week-long torture for all frosh: waiting in line, registering for classes, and doing a whole lot of nothing. Sounds fun, eh?

Thankfully, O-Week at Western evolved from a mind-numbing ordeal to the whirlwind of programming we know today.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact beginnings of Western’s O-Week. By the 1960s events run by the Purple Spur, Western’s famous social club, including dances and wiener roasts were dispersed throughout registration. But with increasing student enrolment throughout the later part of the decade, a larger scale program was needed to entertain the myriad of incoming students.

The mid-70s represented a turning point in the evolution of O-Week. In 1976 the USC’s clever orientation commissioner Joan Buchnar created campus-wide, all-inclusive events that brought all of Western together. She also devised the sale of Orientation Kits to fundraise. These kits, along with events like the Springbank Games, the Wonderland Gardens Ball, and a 4000-person beach party in Port Stanley, helped rake in nearly $400,000. The budget for O-Week began to grow rapidly " and so did the controversy.

In 1977, the annual Huron Striptease got slightly out of hand when several Huron ladies took it all off for their eager male audience. Three years later, the Wonderland Ball ended in shambles, with overturned cars, arson, and general mayhem capping the evening.

Yet another event went awry in 1990 when several half-naked, honey-coated participants in the Springbank Games kissing contest received multiple bee stings " enough for one student to be rushed to hospital. Needless to say, Western administration began to worry about the state of O-Week and its impact on frosh.

By the late 1980s, administration was cracking down. The “Hands Off” policy of 1989 " which banned sophs and other orientation leaders from engaging in sexual activities with frosh " was one of the first measures to change Western’s image as Ontario’s party school.

A huge blow came in 1991, when then-President George Pedersen chose to shorten O-Week to four and a half days, due to “[the] harmful sex and drinking.” Five hundred students protested the decision on Concrete Beach, causing Pedersen to cave. The University Students’ Council stepped in to better organize the O-Week program. The first Soph Contract was also drafted to keep orientation volunteers in check.

Throughout the rest of the 1990s, O-Week continued to grow, but the relationship between O-Week organizers and administration remained rocky. In 1995, the opening ceremonies engineering prank, a large smoke bomb, exploded resulting in several injuries among Western faculty and administration " including current Western President Paul Davenport. By the end of the decade, talks arose again about shortening O-Week, but soon another answer to the constant debauchery became apparent: a dry O-Week.

By 2000, main campus programming was fully dry, soon followed by all other O-Week events.

For decades, O-Week has evolved, from a wholesome alternative to those pesky lineups, to a week of controversial drunken madness to the diverse and exciting experience we know today. While the state of Western’s O-Week may have changed, one thing stayed constant: it’s a hell of a good time.

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