First-year orientation, focused on building a sense of community and introducing the new students to the college’s entrenched moral pillars, highlighted an exciting time for the incoming class of 2018. Throughout the week, students engaged in a number of activities emphasizing the social, ethical and communal characteristics of Amherst in small group discussions and in large class-wide assemblies. While most of the dialogue regarding the ethical climate and societal configuration of the college was unquestionably pertinent, at times certain conversations seemed superfluous. Orientation introduced all first-year students to the intricacies of the Amherst daily lifestyle, but too often these introductory activities neglected to delve into the details of Amherst academic life.
While the professed goal of orientation was to introduce the incoming class to the various aspects of Amherst College, there was minimal dialogue concerning academic life. This included a lack of discussion on things such as course registration, which resulted in it being a highly stressful activity for many first year students. As many courses quickly reached capacity, students were left with no choice but to arrange last-second contingency schedules in order to find four courses they were interested in. While the academic strength of Amherst meant that any class, first choice or last choice, would be intellectually stimulating, more preparation could have smoothed out the process. While there were highly informative academic department meetings, in total, the academic situation of first years — be it prerequisites, placement testing or course registration — seemed to take a backseat to often redundant dialogue on ethics and community values.
The conversations on morals and the respectful way of behaving on campus were in no way trivial when compared to academic discussions, but both are not mutually exclusive. Instead of talking about plagiarism for an hour and half, it may have been prudent to discuss plagiarism for 45 minutes and course registration the other 45 minutes.
From a social perspective, orientation made good use of the squads and LEAP program trips to introduce the class of 2018 to each other. Both were enjoyable activities that fostered a sense of community amongst first-year students. It also helped introduce students to the campus as we were ushered from event to event. During a time of transition from the comfort of home to the life of an independent college student, it was nice to build these small communities that provided stability to all incoming students.