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Opening Days introduces incoming students to campus life

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Jasper Jones

News editor

Students place candles into the Mill Stream as a part of the Matriculation ceremony. This symbolizes the official beginning of their Willamette journey. Photo: Frank Miller.

Opening Days (OD), Willamette’s student-run orientation program for incoming students, welcomed first-year, international and transfer students to the campus community through five days of activities. Groups of 10-15 students were paired with two Opening Days leaders who led group meetings, facilitated conversations about campus culture and offered information about campus and its resources. 

This year, Opening Days coordinator Jaelin Sonoda (‘20) and lead team members Katie Bick (‘20), Tara Hickman (‘21) and CJ Chow (‘21) organized and ran the program. After being hired in the fall 2018 semester, they started making changes to the event based off of feedback from last year, planning trainings and hiring Opening Days leaders. 

Once hired, Opening Days leaders had a few trainings in the spring semester of 2019, and then four days of all-day training right before the beginning of the program in August. In the trainings, the student volunteers learned about skills they would need during the job, like learning about campus resources available to students, group dynamics and leading conversations. 

“My main goal was to make training for the leaders significantly less overwhelming… The way I tried to make it a little more digestible is by having activities instead of just presentations. [Having] something that people can engage in I think helped a lot, rather than just getting information told to them,” said Sonoda. 

After training, Opening Days 2019 began as students started checking in and moving into their residence halls. Last year, the beginning of the school year was welcomed with over 100 degree weather, whereas the first day this year was uncharastically rainy and kick-off ceremonies had to be moved to Smith Auditorium, despite usually being held on the quad. 

Every year, Opening Days has a handful of staple events that serve certain purposes in the process of orienting students to their new home. These events include Family Ties, Passport to Salem, Bearcats Give Back and Reality Check. 

Family Ties is an event for the families of incoming students. It is a show of skits that presents scenarios that may happen with the evolving student-family relationship and offers solutions for handling them. At the end, a panel of current Willamette student family members and a few current students answered questions from the audience. 

As explained by Chow, the director of Family Ties, the main goal of the event is to “help [family members] have different strategies and communication styles” during this time of change. 

Passport to Salem is an opportunity for students to start exploring their new surroundings outside of campus limits. They had a choice of going to the state fair, Exitus escape rooms, Create A Memory or to take a walking tour of downtown complete with a booklet of coupons for local businesses. 

Bearcats Give Back is a service-oriented event that introduces students to service-learning, a focus of Willamette that relates to the University’s motto, “Not Alone Unto Ourselves Are We Born.” 79 students and 10 OD leaders volunteered at five different sites: Shangri-La, Salem Audubon Society, Marion Polk Food Share at the John Know Community Garden, SOAR Center and the Zena property (a plot of farm and forest land owned by WU), as reported by Hickman. Afterwards, the volunteer groups reflected on their experiences in a conversation to encourage mindful service-learning. 

“All of the service sites were very excited to work with our incoming WU students and amazed by the amount of work that was accomplished within two hours. Many students also expressed that they wanted to stay at the service site for longer,” said Hickman. 

Reality Check is another performance of skits, but this event is geared towards students.

“Reality Check is an event intended to make students aware of situations that may occur during their time on a college campus, and to ensure that incoming students are able to identify resources that may help them navigate their Willamette experience should any of these situations arrive,” said Bick. 

These scenes deal with topics spanning from roommate conflict to sexual assault. Since this event handles more serious and difficult topics than the rest of Opening Days, there is a briefing beforehand to set expectations, a more serious tone and a debrief afterwards. This gives students a space to reflect on, internalize and discuss all of the information they just received. 

“It is truly a toe-dip, or a 101 crash course, into the myriad of complex and nuanced issues that are common on our campus,” said Bick, acknowledging that Reality Check is just the beginning of conversations that are too complicated to be fully discussed in a night and should be ongoing.

The last day of Opening Days featured a volleyball tournament and Willamette Night Out, an event where activities were spread throughout campus, including an open mic night and s’mores. The next day, Aug. 27, classes started. 

“At the end of OD, we hope that students feel like they are prepared for their time at WU and know people and places they can reach out to for support,” explained Hickman. 

If you have an experience as an Opening Days leader and are interested in becoming the next coordinator or a member of lead team, applications are out now and due to the Office of Student Activities by Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 3 p.m.

If you are interested in being an Opening Days leader, applications will be out later this semester. 

Chow spoke to the impact being a leader and a part of lead team has had on his time at Willamette. “Honestly, if I didn’t have such a good experience as I did, I probably would not have come back to Willamette this year. I met a lot of people as an Opening Days leader, and beyond that I learned a lot about myself. About how I deal with stress… solve an issue, lead discussions, facilitate groups. I learned a lot about myself.”

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