The art & science of ArtSci frosh week

Union Gallery

A behind-the-scenes glance at the ups and downs of planning orientation week for Queen’s largest faculty

ArtSci frosh are covered in shaving cream and dirt.
ArtSci frosh are covered in shaving cream and dirt.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

How do you inspire 2500 teenagers to bond with each other, on a shoestring budget, in four days or less?

You cover them with shaving cream and hope for the best. 

Like clockwork, a new batch of students arrive every year on campus looking forward to frosh week. Seen as a chance to hit the personal reset button for new students, Orientation Week acts as an opportunity for a fresh start in an unfamiliar place to most. 

With a participation rate hovering around 90 per cent, Orientation Week effectively sets the university-life pace for most of the incoming first-years. ArtSci, the largest among the faculties and run by the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society (ASUS), runs orientation week for nearly 2700 students each year. 

To change things up, ASUS President Jasmine Lagundzija said there are multiple new events this year. Among these are a group Zumba class focused on the importance of maintaining both mental and physical well-being and a “How Do You Deal” forum focused on topics of equity and diversity. 

While Lagundzija and ASUS Vice-President, Stefan Negus are very present throughout the week, they take a back seat during the planning stage of Orientation Week. 

“Orientation Week is relatively autonomous. The Executive and members of ASUS Assembly are members of the Head Gael and Chair hiring panels, but from then on the Executive is a support to the Orientation Week Team as needed,” Negus said in an email to The Journal

According to Negus, the Vice-President works with the Head Gael to coordinate finances for the week, while the President works with the Academic Orientation Committee which includes members from all Faculty of Arts and Science Orientation weeks. 

While many incoming first years forge their most long-lasting friendships in residence and lecture halls, frosh groups offer remarkable memories.

To help first years connect with other students in their faculty, the Orientation Committee will ask students to identify their projected major and will group them together at random. While this doesn’t always work, ASUS President Jasmine Lagundzija doesn’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. “It can be a great way to meet someone outside of your program,” she said, in an email to The Journal, “I met my housemate who’s a drama major through Orientation Week, which wouldn’t have happened if my group was only politics students.”

According to Conor Gallant, Head Gael 2017, there’s a fine line between trying to facilitate friendships and letting them grow organically: “We try to put people in a position that’s comfortable where you have the option to be as boisterous or as reserved as you want to be,” Gallant said. 

Gallant admitted the biggest problem they face as a society is the sheer size of the faculty. 

“We are limited in what we can do based on size and it would be really financially inaccessible if we tried to do big trips like [other faculties] do,” Gallant said of the main obstacle faced by the planning committee. “If you think about the students going into Engineering and Commerce, they all have pretty niche interests. Arts and Science are two very distinct faculties.”

The task of creating an orientation week that both warmly welcomes and consolidates the student’s shift into adulthood is no easy feat. 

At the risk of becoming too similar to a summer camp, ArtSci has adopted a multiplicity of events that repeat themselves year after year. The hypnotist, the carnival and a movie night are recurrent events that have entertained frosh on an annual basis. 

Even though it seems to run smoothly, there are many barriers facing the ArtSci planning committee compared to those of other faculties. Due to their size, there are very few locations in the Kingston community — let alone on campus — where 3000 people can comfortably congregate. With the additional obstacle of the PEC being under construction this fall, the planning committee is forced to be slightly more creative with meet-up locations. 

According to Gallant, this year has been brazenly revamped compared to previous frosh weeks.

 “Orientation is often the first point of contact and we want to show them what we hope they’ll experience,” Gallant said, in light of the social and political climate on campus evolving over the last few years. 

In previous years, the mental health event scheduled by Orientation Week leaders was a lecture style event called ‘The Non-Academics of Academics’. 

“Putting the word academics in the title twice sometimes isn’t conducive to the message we’re trying to get across: that there’s connection between mental and physical health,” Gallant said of the inspiration behind the change from lecture style to a more interactive event. 

In terms of Orientation Week satisfaction, Gallant is confident that it achieves its goal of bridging the gap between frosh and upper years. 

“I think a good indicator of how much people enjoy it is that we never have any trouble with the turnout we have for orientation leader hiring every year. We don’t have trouble filling our 500 spots,” said Gallant in response to orientation’s popularity. 

“The goal is to put on a fun event. The first years show up not knowing what’s going on and when it’s all done they feel like they’re part of something bigger.”

 

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