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August 29, 2014

Why Queen's Orientation Week Matters So Much

Photo by Charlotte Johnston

At Queen's, we take our Orientation Week very seriously. We have student leaders who dedicate the better part of 1, 2, 3, or sometimes even 4 years of their lives to the enjoyment, planning, and execution of an exciting, inclusive, and holistically effective orientation week. I am one of those students who, for 3 years, was involved in the controlled chaos that is Frosh Week. Speaking to some of my friends from back home in Ottawa, it became apparent that many people don't understand why it's such a big deal at Queen's. Though I recognize not all Queen's students are as high on O-Week festivities as I and others are, I might challenge that it is, more-or-less, generally accepted that a big deal is made of orientation week here, especially when compared to other schools. It's exciting. It's a chill and a feeling in the air. It's an electricity that can be felt throughout the city and campus. I would love for you to understand why I think we have such a special thing going. That is why I am sharing this list with you: 4 reasons why Queen's Orientation Week matters so very, very much to so many people.

1. A week for students, by students.

Queen's Orientation week is unique for a number of reasons. The most significant defining quality, perhaps, is that everything during Faculty Orientation is planned and executed solely by students. There is a level of student autonomy, and thus a subsequent sense of ownership and pride, that surrounds a completely student-operated orientation to Queen's. Student-run orientation week is the textbook example of how passionate Queen's students are about their school and about making life more exciting, enjoyable, and comfortable for their classmates. This tradition of student leadership leading up to, during, and following Frosh Week is one of the reasons why we love our O-Week so very much. Queen's students can be an awfully (yes, sometimes obnoxiously so - but you love us anyway) proud bunch. I'd argue this showcasing of pride is warranted due to the unbelievable amount of work that goes into the week's activities. It's a big deal. Orientation week is not merely a big deal for the thousands of incoming Frosh, but for the hundreds who are the heart and soul of the programming.

2. A commitment to safety and inclusion without abandoning tradition.

Orientation week has changed dramatically over time in different ways. Why is that? It's because Queen's students have demonstrated the ability to constantly reassess practices and to be open to changes when necessary. That is to say, traditions are not merely maintained for the sake of tradition. Events, cheers, and common practices are thoughtfully and critically maintained and have thus evolved over time. I would argue that this evolution has been a positive one. Queen's students have recognized that the most important thing about orientation week is ensuring that incoming students can push their boundaries, gain new experiences and networks, become accustomed and comfortable with their new academic/residential/social settings, and perhaps experience some productive discomfort by doing some silly activities with their Frosh groups. There is a big difference between experiencing some discomfort and feeling unsafe. Queen's students and those who have helped shaped Orientation Week over the past several decades have committed to making O-Week a safe space that recognizes the incredibly diverse gamete of students that arrive year after year.

Photo by Isaac Kim

Further, though some traditions have changed shape while others have been reconsidered and eliminated completely, students have demonstrated a spirit of initiative in starting traditions of their own that more closely reflect themes of inclusion and diversity. Take an event like "Motionball" in the faculty of Physical Education and Kinesiology, for example. Students are brought together with children with disabilities to play sports and make meaningful connections. This is now a staple in their orientation week that changes the worlds of Frosh and children each year. For this reason, Orientation Week has become a big deal for a more diverse group of people. We are certainly not at the point where every single incoming student will have the same brilliant experience, but the progress that has been made at this school is remarkable.

3. Fast friends, frosh families.

When I arrived on this campus, the only people I knew in this big new place were my brother and his housemates. I got all moved into my residence room in Morris Hall, met my roommate, and just kind of sat there. At that point, I liked that this place seemed kind of cool. I knew I liked how it looked. I liked the idea of being at a university away from home.

Within 5 minutes of meeting my Frosh leaders and fellow first-years, I knew I liked how this place felt.

I knew that I was among friends and family that I didn't even know had previously existed.

The way that our O-Week is structured, with things like Gael families and smaller frosh groups, it lends itself to fostering a true sense of belonging, community, and affinity - not only to the university, but also to the process that brought these feelings about (orientation week). Ever since the very first day of my orientation week in first year, I have experienced the hair stand up on the back of my neck every time I step out of my door onto campus. There is an electricity at this school that is palpable; a comfort that comes only when you are surrounded with people who build you up and have your back. The way that our leaders are trained to approach Frosh week, and the people that are in place to apply this training, make it such that making connections will come easily to many. I know I certainly cannot hope to speak for everyone, but I personally credit orientation week with the affinity and adoration I feel for my school, and also for much of the personal growth I have experienced. My O-Week fam(s) have left an incredible impression on my life and I am confident that I am not alone in this regard.

I arrived a stranger, but within a matter of seconds, I was a member of the Queen's family.

4. Home away from home.

Queen's is a university town. The vast majority of students who come to Queen's are out-of-town students; many out of province. In fact, we are seeing an increase in the percentage of international students proportionally. Thus, the number of students who are living in their family home and attending Queen's is much lower than at most other schools in the country.

Homesickness and high anxiety are common for students who have just moved away from home for the first time. Orientation week is when Queen's truly becomes a new home for incoming students. Before my orientation week, I spoke to my friends from back in Ottawa about when I would leave Kingston and come "home" to see them next. Following Frosh week, I told them that I would visit Ottawa soon before coming back home to Kingston. Not only does orientation week make you comfortable with your new school, your new program, and your new peers, but it builds a connection between you and your new home-town. I grew up in Ottawa, but at least for now, Kingston is my home. For me, this level of comfort came directly from orientation week events and hearing my leaders talk about their love for Kingston. They say that home is where the heart is. Ever since the first day of orientation week, my heart and home have been right here where they belong.

Orientation week 2014 is just around the corner. I cannot wait to see it in action and I will sleep soundly knowing that we have the most incredible people in the world at the helm. To the class of 2018 - welcome to your new home.

You're in good hands.

Princeps Servusque Es,
Mike Young