Bring back Orientation Week Energy
I had a strange experience a few weeks ago—I was tossing a frisbee with a few friends on the open patch of grass between Eliot B and Liggett Houses, when two voices called down from South 40 House: “Can we come toss with you?” We looked at each other, shrugged and said sure, a little caught off guard. The girls giggled and soon appeared.
After throwing with us for a few minutes, they asked to exchange numbers. Again, a little sudden, but we were all agreeable. After a few minutes of small talk, we learned the girls were both freshmen who had just arrived on campus for the first time this semester. Something clicked—asking strangers to participate in an activity, inquiring after contact information immediately and making plans to meet up again: It was Orientation Week Energy! Remember that first week on campus? No social endeavor was off-limits (except for the non-socially-distanced ones). I distinctly recall walking up to students at random outside Bear’s Den and introducing myself or grabbing snap codes or digits after hardly an hour of playing a board game.
And it wasn’t just me—most freshmen were desperate for friends and were thus receptive to each other’s advances. But something changed after those initial few weeks. Once you found a suitable cohort to lunch and study with, the hunger for new friends decreased, tanking right around the time dining seating closed and the opportunity to enjoy the company of strangers was limited to the GrubHub line. Now, when I pass students hurrying to class, I do recognize more faces and give a friendly nod or wave. But I also hardly glance at the people I don’t already know.
Clubs and classes are still foolproof ways to make new friends, especially if you’re not scared of a little Zoom DMing. Yet we all know that in the seemingly endless blur of the pandemic, the ways we are pushed together via in-person activities are hardly adequate for the social melee that college is advertised to be. Here’s my take: bring back Orientation Week Energy (OWE). Being outgoing and intentionally friendly still will be well-received by a majority of college freshmen. Just because you’ve found a good group of friends does not mean that you’ve even scratched the surface of smart, funny and fantastic new people that Wash. U. has to offer. Even if you knew 700 people (which would put you many standard deviations above the average freshman), you would still have yet to meet 90% of Wash. U. undergrads.
This isn’t to say that everyone holds the same view as I do—even though I discovered a kind of forgotten joy from having encountered OWE, it doesn’t mean that introverted or less receptive people don’t exist. However, it’s pretty easy to figure out if someone is less-than-pleased to be approached and equally as simple to exude non-receptive energy if you’re feeling antisocial. Aside from those hopefully brief instances of rejection, my guess is that many students are still hungering for novel people and experiences.
So ask to join pickup soccer games or turn around and talk to the stranger behind you in the Sally the Salad Robot line. You may find a surprised but smiling face, one that will become recognizable and make campus feel a little more familiar. I, for one, have been baking cookies with one of my newfound friends on a weekly basis. It’s nice—and I’m very glad I met her.