OPINION: We can’t skip a year of Orientation Adventure

Many people kayak in colorful boats into a rock cave.
Pomona first years kayak during Orientation Adventure 2018. (Jeremy Snyder • The Student Life)

At the 5Cs, Orientation Adventure plays an integral role in the transition to life at college. 

By transporting students to a different world, OA helps new students see the big picture of the incredible life transition that is taking place without letting them get lost in the sea of stressful details that inevitably engulfs incoming first-years. 

In the wake of the pandemic, this critical element in the transition to college has been lost, and while it may seem easy to overlook at first, we can’t let it slip by. Some version of in-person OA must be made available moving forward when we’re no longer online, whether that be this winter, or more likely next fall. 

Last August, on a classically scorching Los Angeles summer day, I arrived on Pitzer College’s campus for the first time. I had been looking forward to move-in day for the whole summer, but now, fresh off of a two-week road trip through Colorado and California, I felt more apprehensive than excited. 

Sitting in orientation meetings for two days in Benson Auditorium, the competing feelings of enthusiasm and anxiousness persisted. I was eager to explore my new home and meet fellow students, but the realities of preparing myself for a new school year, choosing classes and taking placement tests loomed large, demanding my attention. 

Then, as the last day of orientation drew to a close, Pitzer’s vice president of admission and financial aid, Yvonne Berumen, took the stage. As she closed the meeting, she advised us to forget about all of the logistics that needed to be figured out and all of the work that still needed to be done to prepare for the year. Instead, she told us to lay it aside for a few days, enjoy our OA and trust that everything could be sorted out once we returned to campus. 

I took her advice, and at 4:30 a.m. the next morning, I was on a bus headed to Catalina Island.

The following four days were some of my favorites of the entire semester. Kayaking in the crystal clear water of the Pacific, hiking in the rugged hills of Catalina Island and sleeping on the beach, it seemed as though I had been transported to another world. And when we did return to campus, I felt like we had been gone forever. 

It feels strange to credit such a short trip with having such a significant effect on me, but upon returning to campus, I felt refreshed, with a renewed determination to tackle the challenges of beginning my first year of college. I, in large part, have my OA to thank for that.

During those days, students were free to simply explore their new home in Southern California and meet fellow classmates, something unachievable online. While one didn’t necessarily become best friends with everyone on their OA, the trip went a long way in building a sense of community and belonging. In just a few short days, there were already familiar faces that I waved to as I walked across campus. 

I have moved many times in my life, and the sense of community and connectedness fostered by OA would probably take half a semester to develop otherwise. 

And while OA takes slightly different forms at each of the 5Cs, the principles behind the programs are similar. 

Some schools have considered adapting them in recent years. In 2018, Pomona College even considered moving OA to the summer before sophomore year in an attempt to counteract the sense of loss of community that some students reported feeling at the start of their second year. President G. Gabrielle Starr endorsed the decision, saying she wanted to invest more in sophomores and juniors, not just first-years and seniors. 

However, the proposal was met with considerable pushback, as students and faculty rejected the idea of eliminating such a core element of the college acclimation process at the 5Cs. The message from the broader community was clear: in-person OA is an essential part of beginning life at the Claremont Colleges, and it is here to stay.

However, due to circumstances far beyond anyone’s control, we lost in-person OAs at the 5Cs this August

Like many aspects of a normal college life, it was a casualty of the ongoing pandemic. But unlike some aspects that will quickly return to normal once everyone is back on campus, the loss of non-virtual OA will echo far beyond the first few weeks. 

Even among all of the other losses due to the remote semester, I believe that real OA is potentially the most unfortunate moving forward. An entire class of first-years will walk onto campus this spring or next fall having met few or none of their classmates. 

In an attempt to remedy the situation and create some semblance of life at college, some first-years have moved in together to do online school. This provides some students with the great opportunity to get to know at least a few of their classmates, but it is not a possibility for many. 

In-person OA may seem like a trivial thing to mourn amidst all of the uncertainty and struggle that the last eight months have held, but it also cannot be overlooked. We must acknowledge in-person OA for the incredibly important thing that it is in the transition to college and not allow it to slip by without recognizing its importance and doing something about its loss. 

One possible solution would be to reschedule real OA, allowing first-year students to still benefit from the experience as they transition to life on campus. Maintaining OA in this way acknowledges the critical role it plays in the life-changing transition to college. 

As I reflect on my own OA experience, it’s hard to imagine the transition to college without it. If we wish to preserve the special community that is the Claremont Colleges, recognizing the value of OA and making sure that no class goes without that experience is an important first step. 

Ryan Lillestrand PZ ’23 lives in Orlando, Florida, but grew up in Florence, Italy. He is an avid reader and intends on majoring in international political economy and cognitive science.

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