Focusing on frosh

From climbing the grease pole to painting coveralls, a look at Queen’s Orientation Week

Engineering frosh receive their traditional haircuts in Agnes Benidickson Park.
Engineering frosh receive their traditional haircuts in Agnes Benidickson Park.

Rob Crabtree, Sci ’90, recalls his Frosh Week as the experience of a lifetime. 

“It’s a fantastic, transformative experience that I look back on often,” he said. “It was like jumping on the fastest train I’d ever been on in my life.” 

As an Engineering frosh in 1986 and Chief FREC the following year, Crabtree said he considers the week a vital part of integration into the University community. 

“During Frosh Week, I went from a sense of passionately wanting to be part of Queen’s to feeling like I had a toe-hold,” he said. “By the time you completed your grease pole climb, all your FRECs change their behaviour and welcome you as being a year.” 

Twenty years later, both administration and students still consider Frosh Week a cornerstone of the first-year university experience.   

Sara Porisky, ArtSci ’07 and Head Gael, said her own positive frosh experience in her first year influenced her decision to be involved with orientation. 

“This year will be my third as an orientation leader, and every year I get to see more and more what a positive impact Arts and Science orientation week has on first-year students at Queen’s,” she said. “I think this first impression is so crucial and is a large part of what makes Queen’s such a spirited school with such a high level of student involvement.”  

Lauren Hardy, Nursing ’08 and Head Cape, echoed Porisky’s sentiment, and said student leadership is crucial to orientation week success.  

“Students are, and should continue to be, the participants, leaders and organizers of Frosh Week,” she said. “As a student, we know what the frosh are encountering in their first year and can help them out as best we can. 

“I think that the main reason that Frosh Week has been so successful as of late is because it has been student-run.”  

Season Kam, ArtSci ’10, said her Gaels made her feel welcome in the University community.

“My Gaels are so friendly, even more so than my don. They talk to us not on an ‘I’m older than you’ level, but as friends,” she said. “I think it’s really helpful that the Gaels are so approachable. They are older, and they give perspective on what its like during first year.”

In a survey about first-year orientation conducted by the Senate Orientation Activities Review Board (SOARB), 74 per cent of students who participated in 2005 orientation said they were treated equally by their leaders, compared to 64 per cent in 2004. Overall student respect for frosh leaders rose from 52 per cent to 63 per cent. From grease poles to coveralls, each University faculty boasts their own unique set of orientation traditions. Organizers say they value these traditions because of their role in promoting faculty pride.  

Rachel Allen, Con Ed ’08 and Head Teach, said her faculty Frosh Week includes several traditional events, such as a welcoming of frosh on the steps of Vic Hall and a ceremony on Wolfe Island to distribute tams. 

“We are really proud of our traditions, and really excited to share them with the new members of the Con-Ed family,” she said.  

Although other faculties keep their activities close to campus, Phys Ed leaders, also known as Coaches, take their frosh on a three-day trip to Camp Oconto.  

Warren Brown, Phys Ed ’09 and Head Coach, said the purpose behind the trip is to give the small faculty a chance to connect with one another outside the pressures on campus. 

“Although we do like to focus our Frosh Week on teaching the froshies about university, the campus and the city of Kingston, we really try to facilitate their building of friendships with all years,” he said. “A few days of fun away from campus really allows the froshies to mingle and meet some of the people that they will be calling their best friends a little further on down the road.” 

While most frosh traditions stand the test of time, the customary house gatherings hosted by frosh leaders from all faculties were cancelled in June by Janice Deakin, former dean of student affairs. 

Jason Laker, the new dean of student affairs, said he will not revisit the decision. 

“I respect my colleague’s decision,” he said. “We worked hard to find alternatives that would affirm the cultures of faculties.”  

Laker said his office raised over $70,000 from various sources to allow each faculty to come up with feasible alternatives to the defunct tradition. He cited Eng Cuts, the customary haircuts Engineering frosh receive during FREC house gatherings, as one event that will continue despite the cancellation. 

“Instead of doing them in houses, they are doing a rather large-scale event [on campus],” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised. Everyone really rose to the occasion, they deserve to be supported.”  

Laker said the extra money would not be provided in future years.

Other frosh leaders said they have been able to adjust to the last-minute decision by planning alternative events. 

“Phys Ed used to have what we called ‘GM dinners’ in our schedule, which was a night when the frosh groups would go to their leaders’ houses for dinner, and then we would all meet up after and go to the all-faculty concert,” Brown said. “Now, we have simply changed that dinner to a BBQ down by the water.” 

Alex Letterman, ArtSci ’10, said his Gaels have replaced house gatherings with other nighttime events.

“They mentioned that they are organizing activities at night, to fill up time during frosh week,” he said. “I don’t think it will prevent student drinking, but it might slow it down a bit.”

Although 90 per cent of first-years in 2005 were underage, the SOARB survey showed that 31 per cent of underage respondents said they drank more during Frosh Week than they were accustomed to.

Frosh leaders agreed that while the traditions at Queen’s are important, safety remains a priority during orientation week. 

“Nursing has small leader groups which facilitate a welcoming atmosphere, and Capes must ensure all frosh are walked home after late night events,” Hardy said. 

All Frosh Week organizers sign a contract with the University promising to abide by a code of conduct. The contract states that frosh leaders must “not harass others by direct suggestion or through cheers” or “promote the consumption of any substance of abuse” among frosh.

Crabtree said while his frosh experience was fun, some of the activities bordered on dangerous.  

“A lot of what we did wouldn’t be allowed today; it was a different era,” he said. “When we went to get our frosh uniforms, we had to lie on our bellies in front of Clark Hall while we were kind of hazed by these FRECs who were spraying us with purple and screaming in our ears.”  

“Their eyes were these white eyeballs as they just screamed and shrieked at you.” 

Eric Jones, Sci ’10, said his FRECs didn’t take the intensity too far.

“The FRECs are very intense, but they’ll talk to us like normal people. They’re intimidating at first,” he said. “They will yell and get people going, but they go around and let us know it’s all optional.”

Allen said Frosh Week traditions have shifted to become more inclusive.  

“From a historical standpoint the Con-Ed orientation week, alongside the other programs and faculties at Queen’s, has undergone major changes, and is now a welcoming environment in which we help the frosh adjust to their new environment instead of initiating them into it,” she said.  

“Their eyes were these white eyeballs as they just screamed and shrieked at you.”

—Rob Crabtree, Sci ’90

Another shift that has occurred in recent years is faculty rivalries have changed from fierce to friendly.  

“The rivalries are generally forged in good fun, and they certainly do help to create faculty unity, although they can be a headache that can cause distress for some frosh,” Hardy said. “There is a fine line, however, as things sometimes get taken too far; as leaders and organizers it is our job to be aware of this line and to make sure that nothing gets out of hand.” 

Porisky also stressed the importance of frosh leaders promoting light-hearted rivalry to strengthen a wider sense of university community. 

“Orientation leaders from all faculties tend to be good, especially in recent years, at keeping faculty rivalries to appropriate, friendly jousting so that first-year students know that it is just fun and at the end of the day we all just go to Queen’s,” she said. 

Jones said that his leaders made it clear that faculty rivalries ended with Frosh Week.

“There has been a bit of faculty rivalry, but the FRECS make it clear that after Frosh Week we love the other faculties,” he said.

However, Kam disagreed and said she thought the rivalries went too far.

“I don’t think the faculty rivalries affect friendships on floors, but I don’t like how the engineers are really rude with their cheers,” she said. “It’s really condescending, [even though] I know it’s just joking.”

Organizers acknowledged that not all students are interested in participating in Frosh Week activities.  

Hardy said Nursing orientation aims to appeal to as many students as possible, and she expects most students to participate. 

“We try to create as positive an environment as we can and try to make sure that all frosh can feel comfortable at all events,” she said. “Out of about 100 incoming Nurses, we are expecting roughly 70 to participate in orientation week.” 

Porisky agreed Frosh Week activities won’t appeal to everyone. 

“Frosh Week should definitely not be mandatory … people can benefit hugely from participating in it, but students are capable of deciding whether or not they need or want to do so,” she said. “Students also have the option of only participating in portions of the week … no event or activity is ever mandatory, so it gives students the option to almost create their own Frosh Week experience.” 

The Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) Kingston offers an alternative frosh week for those interested in activism. They run events throughout September.

Tracey Taylor, Art Sci ’02 and OPIRG co-ordinator, said Frosh Week didn’t appeal to her when she was at Queen’s.

“A lot of it is really kind of competitive and kind of degrading,” she said. “We wanted to offer something different that gave people a chance to find out about social issues in the community, to learn some things, to get to know each other.”

Taylor said OPIRG will be running events like workshops, film nights and an anti-corporate walking tour.

“We run activities that are a bit more politically-critical than the Queen’s activities. The reelout film screening night on September 19 [at Ellis Auditorium] is part of Queerientation week and we’re also involved in that. It’s actually a collection of indie rock videos this year,” she said. “We’re also doing a critical mass bike ride for International Car Free Day on September 22. A few mechanics from local bike shops have volunteered to do free tune-ups and show people how to care for their bikes.”

More information and a schedule of events can be found on OPIRG’s website,

No matter what level of involvement frosh choose to take, Crabtree said he hoped students recognized the unique opportunity that a community like Queen’s can offer.  

“I would just really look for the magic of what’s going on and open up your eyes to the opportunity that Queen’s is, not just academically but socially,” he said. “I’m 40 now and you are never in a situation where you have got thousands of people your own age who are at similar stages in their lives and just there ready to meet you and have a good time. “That never comes back.” 

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