Staff Editorial: New Bear Beginnings must preserve pre-o’s key qualities

Year after year, incoming Washington University students pack up their cornucopia of college gear and head down Shepley Drive to await the sweaty unloading process. Next year, however, the road may be a little bit more crowded: all 1,700 students will be clamoring for sidewalk space at the same time.

In previous years, almost half of incoming students arrived on campus five days before their peers to participate in pre-orientation programs hosted by student groups on campus. Starting in 2019, under a new orientation model announced by the First Year Center last October, all students will arrive at the same time to participate in a nine-day long Bear Beginnings orientation session.

With an objective to create an equal experience for all students, pre-orientation programs will cease to exist in their current form. Instead, the longer orientation program will consist of three sections and one closing day. Sections of the new 9 day program will include a day for welcoming activities, two days for academic programming and three days for small group immersion, as well as the opening and closing days. Student Life’s own pre-o program, Freshman Press, will most likely be eliminated.

If the issue catalyzing change is that not everyone is signing up for a pre-o, the solution is not to keep everyone from doing one. Sometimes, students just don’t want to give up a large chunk of their summer, while others have jobs, overnight camps, family vacations or other obligations that cannot end nine days before the start of the semester.

The Student Life editorial board is mourning the loss of our own program. On our editorial board alone, 10 out of 15 members participated in Freshman Press, found their home and decided to join the newspaper. Out of our 27 current senior editors, 16 staffers participated in our program over the years.

While we applaud the University administration for wanting to create an even playing field encompassing of all students, we believe that this can be achieved without sacrificing the best parts of the programs. To us, the quintessential qualities of the pre-orientation experience are their independent, supportive atmosphere with student-led activities and ability to recruit for student groups on campus.

Part of what attracts incoming freshmen to various programs are the wide range of choices. While KWUR: Adventures in Radioland is exploring Vintage Vinyl on the Delmar Loop, Gateway to Global Citizenship is hosting a discussion on the facets of diversity. Sterilizing this individuality eliminates part of what makes pre-os so great: They allow you to explore an interest outside of a purely academic setting.

Through this independence, nervous incoming students have the ability to pose questions to upperclassmen without the pressure of a lecture hall or the scrutinizing eye of a resident adviser. The welcoming, small group atmosphere allows more quiet or introverted students to feel comfortable. While all students should be able to get this priceless advice, under the new system, no one will.

The First Year Center claims that recruitment isn’t one of the purposes of a pre-orientation program, but why not treat the tendency of participants to join as a testament to the programs’ success? While well-intentioned, we believe there are ways to disseminate the information delivered through Bear Beginnings without quite as much shrapnel: Student groups and participants, particularly more introverted ones, will suffer.

Paired with this issue of Student Life is an additional eight-page paper, written, photographed, designed and illustrated entirely by our 18 first-year participants over the last three days. It is likely the last one we will ever produce, after 8 years. Even if Freshman Press no longer exists, don’t let what students get out of it cease to exist, too.

Correction: This article was updated to more accurately reflect the new orientation schedule.