I arrived at Pomona College on a Saturday last August having traveled 2,000 miles from home, familiar with practically no one on campus and terrified of the journey I was about to start.
Two days later, I hopped on a bus and spent four days backpacking in Sequoia National Park. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the most fun and transformative outdoor experiences I’ve ever had.
During my Orientation Adventure, I grew intimately close to my group members and leaders — many of whom remain my best friends here. I saw sequoia trees for the first time, climbed mountains, and swam in beautiful lakes. It was the best welcome to campus and to California that I could have dreamed of.
I’m saying this to add mine to the overflowing list of OA success stories. When I heard this week the Pomona administration plans to take OA away from first-years, I was dismayed. It’s a change that’s profoundly misguided and threatens to eradicate the most meaningful pillar of the first-year orientation experience.
Moving OA from students’ first to second year would devastate its impact. OA was the first significant way I met my classmates, and those interactions were crucial in getting me through orientation and the first couple weeks of class. Sophomores don’t have nearly the need for that kind of social support.
OA taught me there were people here in college who cared about me, were there for me, and wanted me to succeed. Those lessons have reverberated throughout my first semester. You only get one chance to make that the lens through which students view their new community.
In an email announcing the change, Dean of Students Avis Hinkson expresses two valid reasons to alter the orientation experience. She writes, “students are: 1) exhausted by the time classes begin, and 2) they are eager to register and begin their academic journey.”
While I appreciate that the administration is working to improve first-years’ first days on campus, these concerns do not merit removing OA, and removing OA would not significantly address these concerns.
If any part of orientation needs rethinking, it is the hours upon hours students spend sitting in Bridges Hall of Music hearing from panels and staring at slides. While many of these sessions contain useful information, they’re undoubtedly much more mentally and physically trying than a nourishing, invigorating trip hiking in Sequoia or paddling down the Kern River.
Simply nixing OA, instead of meaningfully addressing the question of which orientation elements serve students most and which can be condensed or spaced out throughout the year, seems like an impetuous cop-out on the part of the administration.
I acknowledge I was eager to start my academic journey when I arrived in August — but, to be honest, I was eager to start my academic journey the second I said yes to Pomona last spring. Four days, especially four days as important as these, aren’t an impediment worth removing.
There are ways the administration could jumpstart the registration process if it wanted to — introducing students to their advisers earlier, perhaps — but simply pushing students’ slated arrival time three days later, as is currently planned, and forgoing a critical part of their move-in are not the right answers.
OA is indispensable. Researchers at Appalachian State University who studied their school’s outdoor orientation program found that students thought the program prepared them for college’s challenges, helped them transition, challenged them intellectually, and encouraged them to engage on campus significantly more than that of traditional academic orientation programming.
That’s not to mention students who participated in outdoor orientation programs had higher average GPAs than those who didn’t. Make no mistake, this change will affect students’ well-being for the worse.
Orientation Adventure is the most important experience I had in my first month at Pomona — possibly in my entire first semester — and it will be a disservice to future first-years to take that experience away from them. Hinkson and her colleagues should listen to the resounding opposition coming from their student body and leave this excellent program alone.
Jasper Davidoff PO ’22 is from Evanston, Illinois. On principle, he only puts on long pants if it drops below 50 degrees.