Freshmen raise their voice with new combined pre-o

Anne Accardi | Freshman Press Reporter

In response to pressure from the First Year Center to eliminate smaller pre-orientation programs, Raise Your Voice—an improv comedy and slam poetry program—became available to freshmen for the first time this year.

The program was created by combining elements of Campus Comedy and Louder Than a Grenada, two past pre-o programs focused on improv and slam poetry, respectively.

The two programs decided to join forces this year after the First Year Center mandated that pre-o programs enroll a minimum of twenty freshmen students.

“Something we’ve learned is that it’s really hard to have small pre-orientation programs—like five or six people,” Rob Wild, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said. “So we’ve really asked groups to build programs that are big enough to hold at least 20 people. And part of that is just about the experience, and part of that is we don’t like having to close programs.”

Historically, both Campus Comedy and Louder Than a Grenada intentionally designed smaller programs, according to previous leaders for the programs. WU-SLam, Washington University’s slam poetry group, generally capped Louder than a Grenada at 10 participants.

“[This year], the slam part of our program only has seven participants, so they would’ve been cut if we hadn’t combined,” junior Cait Schwartz, a leader for the improv section of Raise Your Voice, said.

The two pre-o programs combined out of necessity but, upon arrival, participants are placed in activity groups based on their primary interest within the umbrella program, keeping the original spirit of the two programs alive.

“Throughout the day, they’re generally doing their separate activities—so if they signed up for improv, they’ll be doing primarily improv workshops; and if they’re doing poetry, they’re writing, doing workshops for poetry. And then mostly toward the evening, we have a lot of sort of interactive with the two,” junior Magda Lijowska, another improv leader for the pre-o, said.

“A lot of the times we are separated from [the slam poetry group],” Madison Lee, a first-year student participating in the improv section for Raise Your Voice, said. “We’re here together usually during lunchtime, but we never really fully interact with each other.”

The poetry and improv groups joined together at the end of the program for a showcase, during which the students performed for each other and got a chance to see what other members of the pre-o had been working on.

Carson Borbely, a first-year student in the slam poetry section of Raise Your Voice, enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the improv comedians.

“We are able to collaborate to some extent, and we can also learn about each other’s art forms. A lot of slam kids have never been to an improv show. A lot of improv kids have never been to a slam show. And it also lets you make connections,” Borbely said.

Schwartz agreed that the integration between the two art forms was valuable, though she had a few reservations about the logistics of the pre-o.

“I’m inclined to say I would rather have them separate—just organizing-wise, it’s a lot easier to do that. But I like the idea that they get to see each other perform and see the other counselors do what they do, and I like the performing arts aspect,” Schwartz said.

Regardless of the organizational difficulties, many of those involved in the program feel that it has accomplished its goal of successfully integrating first year students into the campus community.

“I really think pre-orientation—the idea of giving students a small group experience and an opportunity to meet people who aren’t on your floor—is huge,” Wild said. “It’s stressful for everybody to come to college… and pre-orientation programs really allow us to set the tone for a great four years at Wash. U.”

Raise Your Voice participant Madison Lee agreed on the value of the program.

“College is really daunting, and it’s hard when you’re feeling alone. But having this pre-o sets up, already, a comforting feeling of ‘I know some people here. I will be able to say hi to somebody when I pass by,’” Lee said.

“I really feel like I’ve known everyone in my pre-o for years,” Borbely said. “I feel like I’ve been here for a century. I think part of that is the 13-hour days.”

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