Orientation Week demystified

Carcinogens like gentian are good for your skin. No, really.
Carcinogens like gentian are good for your skin. No, really.

When I was asked to look into the meaning and history behind several of the most well-known or confusing aspects of Orientation Week, I realized, as I have so many times before, that I know nothing about it.

I’m in fourth year, I was a Gael, and I like history and fun stories—I should know something about my school’s traditions.

But I don’t, and I suspect most other Queen’s students don’t either.

With a view to all our edification, here’s a tongue-in-cheek guide to a few common Orientation Week terms.


They’re sort of ugly, they’re definitely too warm for September, and they remind of my grandfather, but hey, they’re tradition!

My mom remembers getting her tam when she was at Queen’s in the early 1970s—”I have it somewhere, still,” she told me. “Didn’t I give it to you when you went? I didn’t? Oh. I hope it’s still in the basement. A lot of us are wearing them in the picture of my [residence] floor.” Apparently tams were cooler then. I haven’t touched mine in three years.

Gentian violet

This somewhat toxic dye is the stuff used to turn the ever-intimidating FRECs purple. But don’t worry, engineering frosh—your turn to cover yourself in this “mild carcinogen” will come. That’s what Homecoming is for! I can scarcely contain my envy.

I asked my friend Jay, a chemical engineer and now a grand-FREC, what exactly gentian was, and why anyone would want to rub it all over themselves.

“It’s a biological dye,” he said. “We’ve used it in class, to turn cells blue so we can see them. Our profs said, ‘be careful not to get any on you, it’ll stain!’ And then they laughed.

“But that’s why we use it, because it sticks to us all over.”

According to the Engineering Society, historically speaking, purple is an engineering colour because the engineering corps of the British army and navy wore purple jackets while the rest of the troops wore red.

And there’s also something about engineers on the Titanic bravely going down with the ship while wearing purple overalls. So covering yourself in a toxic chemical is an homage as well as an act of insanity. Good to know.

My mom wasn’t so sure about the effect of the gentian when she saw some FRECs on her way out of Kingston on Wednesday.

“I don’t think purple really goes with plaid,” she said.


Insert your own joke about the television show here. I’m sure yours will be better than mine. But the land of fun and sun I’m talking about here is Frosh Week, not California, so OC stands for “Orientation Committee,” which is the body of hard-working students that runs the Arts and Science Frosh Week.
Like the Orientation Week leaders for all the faculties, these guys and dolls have been working away since last year getting everything ready, and they’ll be getting up with the sunrise for most of this week—so this is definitely not TV’s O.C.


To my mind, this is the best acronym of Orientation Week, since it stands for “New Exchange—Woohoo—Transfer Students.” How great is that? Every acronym should have a “woohoo” hidden in it!

These folks are the upper-year students who are new to Queen’s, coming in from Herstmonceux Castle, exchanges or transfers, as the name suggests.

They have a separate Frosh Week group to help them get their bearings, and they’re sporting the pretty, pretty orange T-shirts. Woohoo indeed.

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