OPINION: OA is cancelled, not moved

Cecil the Sagehen sits on a tree during an Orientation Adventure trip. (Courtesy of Graceson Aufderheide)

Orientation Adventure will still have the same trips, it will just be for sophomores — so moving it isn’t a big deal, right? Wrong: This simple move will completely change the dynamics of orientation, effectively cancelling OA and replacing it with a sophomore shadow of itself.

The transition to college is a challenging time. Creating friends is inevitably nerve-wracking, so students tend to spend their time with groups based on similarities, such as academic departments or affinity groups. Opportunities for mixing outside of these self-forming groups are rare.

Students need as many such opportunities as possible, and OA is one of the few times when everyone is mixed up and placed into groups based on shared excitement for a trip rather than perceived similarities.

Every OA has diversity of experience levels, academic interests, and personal identities. These aspects are negated for sophomores. Imagine going on OA where you already know, or are familiar with, most of the people. With class sizes of about 450 students, a sophomore OA will be less successful at mitigating issues arising from familiarity than that of the current program.

The excitement of seeing new faces is lost. I worry that trips will splinter into small groups by existing familiarity, or worse yet, that someone will end up in a traumatizing situation with someone with whom they have had bad experiences.

It is also vital that new students meet older students who know better than anyone about what being a Sagehen means. OA is a time when new students can talk at length with older students about campus life, good professors, surviving rigorous academics, and so much more. Removing OA from first-year orientation deprives new students of this important chance to learn about Pomona.

Sure, people might meet older students through other avenues like athletics or affinity groups. However, that dynamic is very different. Older students are busy during the semester, and they are already established in their routines and groups. OA creates a much needed space for new students to interact with older peers in ways that can’t be replicated on campus.

The Outdoor Education Center works hard to make sure there is a trip option that everyone will be comfortable with while still pushing them to grow.

Outdoor recreation has historically been a space for privileged white people, especially men. OA is an attempt to include everyone and show marginalized students they can take part in these activities as well.

I know it’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. It is crucial that students get this exposure as early as possible, especially for incoming students who have never before had such an opportunity.

The outdoors have been proven to benefit mental health and relieve stress. Students need this remedy when Claremont life gets overwhelming. Without this experience at the beginning of college, the outdoors will seem even less accessible to marginalized students.

For first-years, there is a magic of discovery. If we move OA to sophomore year, that magic is lost. Sophomores aren’t as impressionable. If someone decides that the outdoors scene on campus isn’t for them, it will be difficult to convince them that it is a place where they belong.

Community is undeniably important. Pomona is meant to be a place where anyone can find a group in which they feel comfortable. I know this is an issue that is incredibly important to Pomona’s current administration.

If students are to be active in a community, they need to be invested. It’s like the tragedy of the commons: If no one takes ownership, then no one cares. People need to have meaningful roles, and know that their presence is noticed and appreciated and that they will be missed if they leave. Community requires investment, and investment requires work from members.

OA fosters community, working to create a better climate on campus. OA participants adopt responsibilities and begin to form community. More importantly, OA leaders are invested in what they do. OA leaders are invested in new students and in making Pomona a better place for the new class. This excitement is key to the program’s success, and for the moment, that is lost.

The administration did an abhorrent job researching and considering the ramifications of this decision. As far as I can tell, the Dean of Students’ office cites three main reasons for this change: 1) Orientation is too long and tiring for new students; 2) New students are eager to register for classes; and 3) Sophomore slump needs to be addressed.

The first point is an important one. Orientation is too long and exhausting. However, many agree that various panels and discussions are too long and inefficient. I know the administration has consistently received feedback that OA is the most memorable and educational portion of orientation. To me, it feels like they are trying to save their bloated program by removing the part they don’t understand.

The second point is less convincing. Yes, people are excited to register for classes and find their rhythm in this new home. However, people are just as excited to make friends and travel. OA is a chance to do both with a group of people you will then be connected to when you get back to campus.

Lastly, of course sophomore slump should be considered. Sophomore year is hard, and no one has completely figured out their place in Claremont yet. A sophomore OA would be exciting, but not at the expense of the first-year experience.

Pomona’s administration clearly thinks some sort of change is needed. However, to me, their reasons cited above aren’t sufficient to explain this action. Instead, it appears they have been secretive by creating a private committee. They have made this decision without proper community input, and they ignored their committee’s recommendation.

This disregard for student input is concerning. This process violates our trust in their ability to adequately gather information. It makes us wonder whether we have a say in matters that directly affect campus life. People feel betrayed, and the petitions, Facebook posts, and discourse on campus proves as much.

Students weren’t consulted in this decision. Our voices weren’t heard, and they continue to be overlooked in this matter and a host of others. Now it is up to us. The administration needs to hear from past and current students about how OA shaped their college experience and how it made them feel in their first weeks on campus.

This is our chance to set a healthy precedent of cooperation and good faith with our new administration, and it is Dean of Students Avis Hinkson’s and President G. Gabrielle Starr’s chance to do the same for us.

That being said, Pomona’s administration clearly believes some part of OA needs revising. OA isn’t perfect. Not everyone believes in it. The OEC has been collecting and compiling data for years, which shows that OA is an extremely successful program.

They recently presented the learning outcomes of OA at a national conference, placing us as a leader in outdoor education through a universal first-year experience. Now, we are celebrating our 25th anniversary by throwing that away.

This is a rash way for a young administration to go about making a change of this magnitude. They have yet to articulate any clear critiques of the OA program itself. Starr and Hinkson are still new, so there is time for them to recognize that a line has been crossed.

They should use this chance to learn more about how our community operates so that we can work together on this issue and other issues moving forward. Therefore, the decision must be put on hold. OA must be reinstated for the Class of 2023.

If they still want to review OA, a balanced public committee must be created, which includes students who have been OA leaders and students who see less value in OA, and a similar mix of faculty and staff. This is a decision that needs to be thoroughly reviewed, without secrecy, after a clear articulation of OA’s current flaws.

Graceson Aufderheide PO ’20 is a First-Generation and/or Low-Income Scholar who coordinated Orientation Adventure in 2017 and was an OA Head Leader in 2018. He now works at the Outdoor Education Center.

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