Every student, same story: The demise of pre-orientation at the hands of the First Year Center

| Class of 2014

Almost a year and a half removed from Washington University, I still miss it dearly. Looking back, I’d still do everything the same way, from pre-orientation to graduation.

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that my Bear Beginnings, my foundation for a successful collegiate experience, is threatened by the First Year Center, which announced last week that any pre-orientation program with fewer than 20 students enrolled by June 15 would be cancelled.

The reasoning itself is faulty at best. Several examples of why were outlined in Monday’s Student Life staff editorial.

In light of this policy, I’m drawn to a common phrase of the late Dean Jim McLeod, one that has become a rallying cry for students, faculty and organizations all over campus: “every student by name and story.” It seems to me that the First Year Center has forgotten it.

The flippant comments by Director of First Year Center Programs Katharine Pei and Coordinator of First Year Center Programs Andrea Farnan are embarrassing, especially those diminishing the small-group experiences of previous pre-orientation participants and questioning the validity of student concerns. Pei’s reasoning is flawed, and she contradicts herself at several times, as exhibited in one example below.

“The purpose of pre-orientation from our standpoint is to provide new students with a small-group experience based on an interest that they opt into,” Pei said. “Recruiting is not a goal of pre-o, because if it were, then we’d have 350 SU [Student Union] pre-os.”

While recruitment may not be an explicit goal of the FYC, it is an implicit result. I was editor-in-chief of Student Life for the 2013-14 academic year, and 12 of the 20 members of my senior staff were alumni of Freshman Press, StudLife’s pre-orientation program. For small organizations such as KWUR, WUTV and WU-SLam, pre-orientation is the best way to attract new students to join clubs and activities that they may not have otherwise considered.

On top of that, the first part of Pei’s statement flies directly in the face of the First Year Center’s policy. If the purpose of Pre-Orientation is to provide a small-group experience, then why is the FYC plotting to eliminate those exact small-group experiences? And if opting in based on an interest is so important, why is that interest so casually tossed to the side because 19 other people don’t share that interest?

Pei, Farnan and the rest of the FYC should consider the point of view of an incoming freshman with a heart set on a program, only to find it cancelled two months before arriving on campus. Would that new student still find Washington University the welcoming, friendly place that the FYC works so hard to portray it as? And, frankly, why on Earth would a new student even want to sign up for a pre-orientation program that has the remotest possibility of getting cancelled?

The First Year Center also forbids any pre-orientation program from advertising or marketing itself to incoming students, insisting that everything go through them. But when the marketing is inconsistent and ineffective, it is unreasonable to expect small programs to reach the 20-person threshold.

Several of these “small programs” are specifically designed to be small, in part so new students spend more time with each other and returning students. Many of these would not work on a larger scale; there is only so much space in a newspaper and so many hours in a day for broadcasting on the radio.

To discriminate based on size alone is irresponsible considering the arguments. Wash. U. would not disband a department like Earth and Planetary Sciences or Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies because there are fewer than 20 undergraduate students graduating with a specific major. The commitment to diversity that the University made includes diversity in interests, and this policy only further limits that.

Most disturbing of all, this policy leads former pre-orientation participants like myself to believe that my positive experience doesn’t matter, that my story isn’t good enough and that it should be more like others and less like my own.

I call upon Pei, Farnan and the First Year Center to submit an op-ed piece responding to my arguments and those outlined in Monday’s staff editorial. Defend yourselves and this policy, or repeal it. If money is the real problem, be honest with the student body, and they will fight for more funding. But it is a disservice to former students, current students and future students to withhold any information in this situation.

For students, alumni, faculty, parents and friends of the Washington University community, let the FYC know what you think by sending an email or writing an op-ed of your own. If you, like myself and countless alumni of pre-orientations and Washington University, do not find yourself in alignment with this policy, form a petition or sign the one specific to Student Life’s Freshman Press. This policy must be discarded, for the sake of the future first year experience, for those students that can get lost in a crowd, for every student and their stories.