Queen’s outgoing Orientation Roundtable Committee (ORT) held its first-ever Orientation summit in November for student leaders to address Orientation Week “grievances.”
The AMS executive, faculty society presidents, outgoing Orientation committee chairs, and incoming Orientation committee chairs gathered for three hours in a classroom to address potential improvements to Queen’s annual tradition.
AMS Vice President (University Affairs) Callum Robertson led the conversation around transparency, communication, accountability, accessibility, and mandates.
“[The summit] was a hallmark of the year […] I am grateful students felt they were in a safe space where they could give their voices,” Robertson said in an interview with The Journal.
Issues surrounding ORT transparency, leader training, sessional dates, and university relations were central to the discussion.
According to Robertson, some faculty societies found ORT needed to be more transparent with them.
“Many times during the Orientation process, we had problems simply because we didn’t communicate as well as we could have. That’s nobody’s singular fault. It’s to be human,” Robertson said.
When working with local and regional business partners for the event, he emphasized ensuring communication is open and aligns with ORT’s mission statement.
“When things fall through the cracks [with ORT], they fall through the cracks for other teams as well […] It’s up to us to support them and take accountability when we fall through.”
Robertson said the hiring team for the incoming ORT staff looked at critical thinking, creativity, and the ability to facilitate bidirectional communication.
They asked themselves, “what does the [ORT] team need to look like to embody the outcomes of the summer,” Robertson said.
As incoming ORT Coordinator, Mariah Keeling wants to create group contracts with faculty societies to understand their goals for next year’s Orientation Week. She said proper planning would help keep both sides accountable.
“As long as we create the solid foundation now, we should have smoother execution,” she said.
Keeling hopes to improve communication with equity-working groups by putting equity at the forefront of the event rather than making it an additional feature.
Clarifying the training process is another aspect of transparency Keeling is looking to improve this year. In outlining the process beforehand, ORT will be responsible for helping leaders and executives feel secure in carrying out Orientation Week duties.
As both ORT and faculty societies carry out training, Keeling wants to establish what will be included in different training sessions to cover all necessary areas and reduce overlap.
Robertson said some of Orientation’s largest issues revolved around training last year, specifically illegible PowerPoint slides, audio issues, and training dates.
“We openly admit there were mistakes made in terms of the training process for our leaders. A lot of those did revolve around accessibility,” he said.
According to Keeling, the team is planning to “overhaul” last year’s training.
“Something that we are really looking to do this year is to promote more engaging concise content to our training that is more accessible, based on universal learning designs, and how we can best tailor it to both the faculties but also to our learners,” Keeling said.
Orientation Week’s sessional dates and splitting up Orientation Week into two weekends was another area of concern brought up at the summit as it affected the mental health of students and increased the overall cost of the event.
“It definitely took a toll on students’ abilities to feel comfortable academically and feel academically prepared when going into Orientation and going into their first week of post-secondary education,” Keeling said.
The second weekend of Orientation Week activities saw increased feelings of stress or anxiety, lower turnout rates, and reduced participation, she said.
Splitting the event into two weekends increased organizers’ time spent setting up and taking down events and returning and picking up U-Haul trucks.
Robertson he’s spoken to Queen’s administration about university sessional dates and how they affect Orientation.
“I think there are ideas on how to make things better, and bring it back to Orientation,” he said. “Whether that discussion happens will revolve around our advocacy efforts and will also revolve around the University’s willingness to have those conversations.”
Although Orientation Week at Queen’s is primarily student-run, the University still maintains a large amount of control over the event. Identifying lines of authority between the University and ORT will help inform the division of responsibilities and build their relationship, Robertson added.
“I’m really proud of the fact that our orientation, even with that level of oversight, is still so student-run. No other university can say they have as much student leadership over their orientation as we do.”
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