Queen’s should reinstate week-long Orientation

An O-Week without interruption is a valuable experience  

David believes a full week would allow students to transition more smoothly.

If you’re reading this, the odds are you’ve never experienced a full week of orientation.

The pandemic has disrupted Orientation week for the last two years. This past year, Orientation was split over two weekends, with most events held online. All Orientation activities occurred online the year prior. The last pre-pandemic Faculty Orientation Week in 2019 was interrupted by classes for two days halfway through the week, as was Orientation in 2018.

In 2017-18, however, classes began a full week after Labour Day. The week before they started was filled by the last full week of orientation to take place at Queen’s University.

Until, maybe, next year.

This past week, the AMS released a petition advocating for Queen’s Orientation to return to a full-week structure. For that advocacy to be successful, students need to show their support.

Next fall, Queen’s classes are set to start on Sept. 6. The extension of the Fall Term Break has taken up the week used in 2017-18 for Orientation, but another year of Orientation spread across two weekends isn’t good enough for students.

A fragmented, weekend-based Orientation would offer less opportunity for engagement in events, less absorption of critical information, less interaction with Queen’s partners in the community, and a more difficult burden on Orientation leaders.

Worst of all, it would weaken the sense of community we should strive to foster—not destroy.

As a result, if Orientation is to fulfill the considerable hopes most incoming students have, it should take place before Labour Day. To preserve the Fall Term Break and pre-exam study period, there’s no other option. But, even more importantly, freed from the two-day fall term break structure, Orientation should also return to a full week.

This February, the AMS is advocating for just that, to give incoming students a full welcome to Queen’s before classes begin. For that, they need our help.

A full week of orientation—proposed to start on Aug. 29—would have several benefits.

First, the spirit of Orientation Week would be boosted to proportions not seen in years, fittingly so, given our hopeful exit from the pandemic in the coming months.

Orientation leaders would have a full week to build momentum, give students breaks when needed, and ensure critical information doesn’t crowd out events that make Queen’s Orientation so special.

Incoming students would have a far better opportunity to get to know their fellow first-years and their Orientation leaders, strengthening the bonds that are so critical to their years at Queen’s.

Secondly, in a full week of Orientation, the workloads of Orientation leaders would be significantly reduced. More days to work with would allow for a less crowded schedule and no conflict between academic and Orientation responsibilities.

In recent years, Orientation leadership applications in many faculties have dropped precipitously. Restoring the spirit of Orientation while giving leaders room to breathe will be critical to its future health.

Thirdly, with a full week of Orientation, incoming students and Orientation leaders alike would be able to turn their full attention to school when it begins. Queen’s school spirit is important, but as an academic institution, it’s worth noting this solution would undoubtedly be best for students’ academic focus.

Moreover, more celebrations in late August and early September would take place in a controlled, Orientation-focused setting. And by putting all Orientation events before classes start, Orientation week leaders could better ensure incoming students are prepared academically, mentally, and socially for their beginnings at Queen’s.

Starting Orientation before Labour Day would be new to Queen’s, but it’s not unprecedented.

McMaster’s schedule is structured in almost exactly the manner proposed by the AMS this winter. At McGill University, Orientation is a full week before classes begin, and even then their schedule begins a full week earlier than what’s being proposed at Queen’s.

With student engagement declining, Orientation traditions interrupted, and a new scheduling opportunity, this structure might be different—but it’s also clearly the best option available.

Oftentimes, advocacy on matters like this takes place behind closed doors. Indeed, student leaders’ reputation suffers because so little of their work sees the light of day. On the issue of Orientation Week, however, student pressure on the University is paramount to the success of the AMS’ advocacy.

If Orientation returns to a full-week-long format, Queen’s will have significant hurdles to overcome, ranging from refining staff contracts, rescheduling residence opening, and providing logistical support to Orientation.

Student voices must now spread the message that it’s worth it to face down those challenges. It’s worth it because a full week of Orientation helps create a sense of community that’s so important to students’ success. It’s worth it because, when our studies begin, we don’t want any students to be distracted or—worse still—unprepared.

And it’s worth it because, after two lost years, it’s the welcome the next generation of Queen’s students deserve.

Students wishing to add their name to the AMS’ petition can do so here.

David is a fourth-year Politics, Philosophy and Economics Student.

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