Opinion: Opening Days isn’t transfer student approved
Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Update 9/13: a lengthy correction provided by Emily Morris on September 5 has been removed in favor of a shorter correction written by the Collegian’s executive team. A new corrections policy has been crafted and added to the website under the About tab. See the new correction at the bottom of the article.
Every student has different needs, especially those with nontraditional educational backgrounds like transfer students. Not every transfer student is excited about getting involved at their school through an orientation program designed for first-years. This is why Willamette has a “Speed Orientation” for transfer and international students. Speed Orientation, unlike the full Opening Days, is a one day program which this year took place on Friday, August 21. It is designed to prepare nontraditional students for life at Willamette. Though many transfer students only register for the Speed Orientation, some choose to immerse themselves in the full Opening Days experience. In Opening Days, Willamette has created an orientation experience that caters to first-year students and is insufficient for transfer students.
Willamette’s [website] encourages transfer students living on campus and non traditionally-aged first-years to attend the full Opening Days in order to experience campus culture and become involved in the Willamette community. However, much of the language in important documents and email blasts regarding Opening Days is exclusionary towards transfer students. For example, the “How to WU: Class of 2024 Next Steps for First-Year Students” guide was sent to transfer students via email. In an email sent to transfer students, Transfer Colloquium Associate Rachel Urner noted that the guide is “put together each year with first-year students in mind” and “may have sections that aren't relevant to all of you,” but much of it was valuable information for any new student, not just the class of 2024. This type of “first-year centric” language is a pervasive theme in orientation publications from the university.
One vital aspect of Opening Days for first-years is their involvement in their colloquium classes. These classes are taught by professors from many different disciplines and cover compelling topics like “Harry Potter and the Ethics of Difference,” “The World We Want,” and “Enemies, Friends, Allies? The Path of Nonviolent Resistance.” First-year colloquium classes provide an introduction to Willamette’s rigorous coursework as well as give first-year students opportunities to interact and build a relationship with their advisors. Though transfer students are similarly new to campus, they are not given these same opportunities. The transfer colloquium group sometimes struggled to fill the time and often ended up playing the same handful of bonding games. While this may help transfer students cultivate meaningful relationships with each other and their Opening Days leaders, it doesn’t provide first-years and transfer students with a comparable experience. Too little thought was put into how transfer students would experience Opening Days compared to the first-year Opening Days program.
As mentioned before, the alternative to participating in the full Opening Days program for transfer students is Speed Orientation, a half day dedicated solely to transfer students and providing them with information about campus resources. This year’s program consisted of three presentations by university faculty members followed by lunch and a campus tour. For students who opted to partake in only the Speed Orientation, these presentations could not possibly have given them a full picture of how to succeed at Willamette. Obviously, it would be impossible to prepare transfer students for every challenge that might come their way, but a couple of hours spent discussing general course requirements, academic support and resources available through Hatfield Library is not enough to adequately prepare students for a major change in their lives.
Opening Days, as it should, caters mainly to first-years, but even the Speed Orientation, which is specifically designed for transfer students, is not sufficient as it is. By organizing transfer students who have made the transition to Willamette in years prior and who can relate to the transfer experience, Willamette can create a more inclusive Opening Days program for transfer students. Communicating with transfer student representatives in order to establish a program that thoughtfully caters to the needs of transfer students is vital in sustaining a welcoming environment for new students at Willamette. All students should feel welcome on campus and transfer students deserve to feel that their Opening Days experience is valued by the University.
Note: Edie Mueller transferred to Willamette this year as a member of the class of 2023.
No University administrator was contacted during the writing of this article. According to administrator Emily Morris, transfer orientation leaders receive special training, and that Speed Orientation is kept short to meet the unique needs of transfer students, since many are “non traditionally aged (over 23), students who work full time, students who are veterans, students who are parents, etc.” All transfer students are encouraged to attend the broader five-day orientation, which overlaps but is not the same as traditional orientation. Additionally, the tour referred to in the article is not a normal campus tour, but a “face to face” during which students meet and greet with different resources and groups on campus.
Due to COVID-19, many supplemental activities for transfers were combined with OD activities. Typically, there are separate events. All transfer students are invited to enroll in an optional transfer student colloquium, which started after OD. This colloquium provides additional resources and support to transfer students. The quote featured in the article was from a student leader that was not involved with the overall planning and is a student working in the colloquium program and not orientation.