Staff Editorial: 9-day Bear Beginnings proves to be a work in progress

Over the past week and a half, the population of Washington University swelled with close to 1800 Freshmen arriving for Bear Beginnings. The class of 2023 marked a change with Washington University’s freshman orientation, with the traditional Pre-Orientation and Bear Beginnings programs merged into a nine-day marathon of programming.

The goals of this consolidation were given to Student Life last fall in an interview with Director of the First Year Center Katharine Pei.

“Our biggest goal is that we create an equitable and consistent experience for all incoming students,” Pei said. “We want new students to connect with one another and begin to identify peer groups. We want them to navigate opportunities on the Danforth campus and St. Louis community. We want them to interact with faculty, staff and upperclassmen, and we want them to develop pride for Wash. U.”

Unfortunately for the class of 2023, the new program was overstuffed and exhausting. The First Year Center and Campus Life provided students with an overwhelming 44-page schedule and an app that students needed to check due to the occasional reshuffling of programming, with additional programming being publicized through the website WUGO.

Fortunately for the First Year Center and Campus Life, their first goal of creating a more equitable and consistent program was met. All students in the freshman class had the opportunity to participate in orientation activities and small-group programming.

The second goal set out by Pei fell short of accomplishment. Students were given too little free time and too full days to truly break out into their own groups. While the nine-day extended schedule was intended to allow for more free time for students, this Bear Beginnings had comparable if not less free time than previous years did. Freshmen were also shuffled from group to group with limited time to truly make connections.

If the First Year Center and Campus Life intend to keep a nine-day orientation moving forward, there are many lessons to be learned from this year’s issues. Freshmen saw free time as too valuable a commodity, therefore many optional programming events were barely attended and caused a misallocation of both resources and people. Night programming served to extend the days in some cases from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and at a certain point, continued attendance at these programs served to tire out students and both limit the efficacy of both the night programs themselves and the next day’s programs. Free time should be extended both to help freshmen make friends and let them recharge for the next round of programming.

The nine-day orientation did not meet the goals set out for it. There is no reason why a longer Bear Beginnings couldn’t be successful, and many of the problems this year were likely due to the transition from four to nine days. However, it seems like this transition was unnecessary, and an increase in the funding for and number of Pre-Orientation programs would have met many of the goals set out by the First Year Center and Campus Life.

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