There are some parts of being a first-year in college that seem to be near universal: begrudgingly completing AlcoholEdu, stalking your future roommates on all available social media, and worrying that you’re not going to fit in or have friends for months. Part of the college’s job during orientation week is to alleviate as many of these feelings of alienation as possible, and settle students into their new environment smoothly. While, on the whole, Scripps College does a considerably good job of helping first-years acclimate into their new life, there are some steps they could take to improve the peer mentor process that warrant serious discussion.
Scripps organizes students into “peer mentor” groups with other students in their dorm. At Scripps, the peer mentors volunteer to help welcome first-year and transfer students into Scripps life. Throughout the school year, mentors are supposed to frequently check in on their mentees and offer advice and support as needed. While this program does have many positive effects, including giving students an additional group of students to bond with and advice from someone who has been through the same experiences, the benefits of the group vary wildly based on the quality of and the time spent with the peer mentor.
While some peer mentors can help cultivate close bonds and provide invaluable advice, others are less helpful to the orientation process. One problem with the system is that beyond the initial meeting and dinner with the mentor group, there is a lack of other designated activities. This means that the frequency of meeting with the mentor group is up to the discretion of the individual peer mentor.
One possible way to eliminate the discrepancies between the time spent with each group and raise the overall effectiveness of the peer mentor system is to have specific, college-mandated times or meals that the peer mentors are to organize with their groups. It would be most effective if these times could be built into the existing orientation week schedule, when peer mentors are less likely to have other commitments and when students have to make important decisions regarding classes and activities. Planned meals with peer mentor groups during this time would ensure that first-years have a place to discuss these concerns.
Of course, even seemingly simple proposals like this one have potential drawbacks upon closer consideration. One possible effect that this could have on the peer mentor process is a reduction in the number of students who are interested in becoming peer mentors, as a result of the increased demands on their time. However, this could actually be beneficial because it eliminates those who are too busy to dedicate their time to peer mentor groups.
The transition to college is difficult for many. Peer mentor groups provide invaluable support to some first-years, but the system can be improved. For example, working multiple predetermined times for groups to meet into the orientation schedule would greatly reduce the discrepancies between the effectiveness of different peer mentor groups, and as well as increase the amount of time spent with this group. This change would therefore give each student a better chance at finding a group of students in their dorm to bond with and more time to talk with an experienced upperclassman who can help ease a difficult period.
Emily Petillon is a first-year at Scripps and is planning on majoring in history.