As incoming first-year students settle into their rooms in residence or their own places off-campus, they take a big step. They’re adapting to a new living environment and are fostering connections with individuals they may very well spend the next four years with.
Most importantly, especially throughout Frosh Week, the environment around them is shaping their first impression of Queen’s as an institution.
Whether or not you want to admit it, their first impression of the university they have chosen to attend will last a lifetime. Both residence staff and orientation leaders know that. Therefore, they attempt to ease first-year students’ transition into Queen’s year after year.
However, many students are frequently unaware of the underlying objectives of Orientation Week policy and the important role student leaders play on campus.
The way I see it, the Frosh Week rules and policies that exist are a good start for instilling a culture of responsibility into incoming students. That is, a culture defined by compassion, respect and sensitivity towards others. Fostering a culture of responsibility throughout Frosh Week, as well as the rest of the the school year, is important. By considering values shared by the community, we can encourage others to think of how their role on campus impacts others.
A cohesive social culture at our institution will not only unify us as Queen’s students, but also represents why University policy relating to student life exists in the first place. One of the most startling misconceptions in regards to university policy I felt was shared by many first-year students while I was a residence staff and first-year was the idea that dons, and sometimes orientation leaders, hold their positions in order to put a complete halt to drinking alcohol. Or, that they only exist to cultivate students’ understanding of Queen’s in an academic, rather than social, way.
These are misconceptions for a reason. Both residence dons and orientation leaders are in fact present in first years’ lives to make them feel important and welcome to Queen’s during a key transitional period. Their role is not meant to make frosh seem like lesser adults or subject them to hazing or embarrassment. At their core, orientation events exist to foster a sense of pride and respect for the institution we attend, and to make first-year students comfortable at a place they will call “home” for the rest of their undergraduate degree. They are also meant to enable students to understand the very important support systems and faculty society hubs they have access to.
As for residence staff, their role on a residence floor, much like the role of an orientation week leader, is to ensure that the students living within the residences on campus are comfortable and feel accepted at Queen’s. They are mandated to promote a safe and inclusive living environment and are tasked with informing students about the non-academic discipline system and why it’s important.
Rules that first-year students are obliged to follow in residences are there to set groundwork for personal responsibility and an acknowledgement of the values of the broad array of individuals who attend our institution. Furthermore, they are there to enable students to comprehend the impact they have the potential to make on other students’ lives.
What many students may be surprised to learn about being a student leader, whether in residences or not, is that, because they’re working in a position of trust, they’re instructed to never lie about the experiences that defined them at Queen’s including, but not limited to, their relationship with alcohol.
Another misconception that students approached me about regarding “dry” orientation week policy in particular was the fear that they would be “caught” in an intoxicated state.
To be intoxicated in residences is not an infraction. Undermining the dignity and respect, as well as personal space of others, is. I would explain to them that residence staff members and dons do not “seek out” students who drink, nor do they try to “catch” students in the act of drinking. Their objective is to ensure that the residence rules are communicated and upheld to promote a living environment that is inclusive and welcoming.
Following this logic, the continuation of the “dry” residence policy throughout Orientation Week should not be seen as a way to prohibit students from consuming alcohol. Instead, it should be seen as a way to encourage students to engage in critical thinking about the environment they share with other individuals who have different interests and living habits.
The individuals who play a role coordinating and implementing a successful orientation week are ultimately there to help ensure the success of our peers. If you have a question, even throughout the school year, there will be an answer waiting for you on campus whether behind the desk of your student government executive, orientation leader or within a don’s room.
Thus, recognizing that orientation leaders and residence staff members can play the role of a mentor could very well help, rather than hinder, a student’s first year at Queen’s.
So, how did your first week at Queen’s impact your life? If first impressions truly do last a lifetime, it should be fair to assume that Frosh Week policy and rules, if upheld by students and staff members, could very well set a groundwork for fostering a positive and inclusive social culture on campus.
Understanding the merits of Orientation Week policy and the initiatives student leaders put forth on campus should be acknowledged.
It’s only through a unified conception of respect and responsibility that we’ll instill a sense of pride and respect on campus this Frosh Week and this coming academic year. Orientation Week is meant to welcome frosh and calm their fears about the big step they are taking. Let’s respect that fact as a community and work together to foster a culture of responsibility.
Lisa Acchione is on the Senate Orientation Activities Review Board and Senate Committee on Non-Academic Discipline.
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