Pomona College is moving its four-day Orientation Adventure program from students’ first year to their second year, President G. Gabrielle Starr announced at a faculty meeting Dec. 5. The decision shocked and angered many students and faculty members, and within hours a petition asking for the change to be reverted had gathered nearly 400 signatures.
Starr said she endorsed the decision, which was made by the Dean of Students office, to address the loss of community some students feel after their first year of college.
“It’s nationally recognized at most colleges and universities that we spend a lot of time on first year students and a lot of time on seniors, and sophomores and juniors are left to kinda come what may, and it doesn’t help with cohesion and community,” Starr said. “We also know that over the time that students are here, some students feel like they’re less part of a community than they did when they first started and that’s problematic.”
First-years at Pomona have had the opportunity to go on an Orientation Adventure trip for the last 24 years. Last year, the school offered 11 different trips located throughout Southern California, according to its website.
The discussion about moving OA initially began after several students and professors expressed “a sense of exhaustion” after completing all 10 days of orientation, Starr said.
The Orientation Steering Committee, which is made up of eight Pomona staff members and one faculty member, reviews orientation every year, and this year looked into complaints about its extensive duration.
Ken Wolf, the professor on the OSC, said the committee discussed various ways to shorten orientation including moving OA to January for first-years, having first-years take four smaller OA trips throughout the year, or shortening OA to two days.
The committee also discussed moving OA to students’ second year, but Wolf said none of the committee members seriously considered this idea. The OSC’s final recommendation, sent to various deans Nov. 1, does not suggest taking OA out of orientation, he said.
“After discussion, the Orientation Steering Committee supports shortening orientation while preserving OA in its current format,” Wolf said, quoting from the memo.
After sending the memo, Wolf said he didn’t hear about OA again until Dec. 3, when he found out about the decision. He was shocked.
“I asked, ‘Could we just wait a year and roll this out in a year after we have the opportunity for the faculty and the students and the staff to all weigh in together?’” Wolf said. “But the answer that I got was that ‘no, the decision has been made.’”
Dean of Students Avis Hinkson was one of the primary people who made the decision.
“[It’s] not something that I’ve taken lightly, but something that I have given a lot of thought to and heard from a lot of people about what they get from the different experiences,” she said.
She declined to specify which groups she discussed moving OA to students’ second year with beside students and faculty, but said most were “very surprised” about the idea because it wasn’t something many people had been thinking about.
Martin Crawford, the director of Pomona’s Outdoor Education Center, which runs OA, wrote in an email to TSL that he is excited about the opportunity to work with second-years. But he also acknowledged the OEC will need to advertise its resources to the incoming class a lot more.
“It is possible that many first-years on south campus will not fully understand the resources of the OEC without first being exposed to the center through OA,” he wrote. “We could get students who did not grow up connecting to nature and may not actively seek out an outdoor center, since they won’t have the OA trip to shatter the misconception that the outdoors is only for a select few.”
Hinkson said there are still many decisions to be made about how to implement OA into students’ second year, and that she is looking forward to getting input about implementation from students, faculty, and staff.
The announcement made to faculty at the meeting Dec. 5 was met with mixed reactions, Starr said.
Politics Department Chair Susan McWilliams said most faculty members were dismayed that “a decision was made without a discussion, or to the extent there was a discussion, nobody involved in the discussion thought that the outcome of their deliberations would look anything like that.”
Students also expressed concerns about the decision.
“I feel like past freshman year, a lot of people have already made some genuine bonds, and I think OA is kind of an important way to give people a structured experience in order to bond with their classmates,” Ethan Ashby PO ’21 said. “And I feel like during sophomore year, these bonding experiences may need to be a little less contrived and a little more natural in terms of people getting involved in things they’re interested in.”
John Zuk PO ’20 echoed Ashby.
“I really enjoyed my own OA trip. I went on beach OA, and since I am from Oklahoma, I had not had many opportunities to be by the water or to enjoy activities like sailing and paddle boarding until my Orientation Adventure,” he wrote in a message to TSL. “Having the chance to do that only a couple of days after arriving at Pomona was amazing.”
But Starr sees the decision as an opportunity to welcome change and create a stronger community at Pomona.
“My sense is that change can be really good and we should sometimes embrace it and see what new can come. But I think that if you ask a lot of people who’ve been here over the years, some people think Orientation Adventure should never change,” she said. “And some people found it alienating and some people found it not the best thing. And I really do worry that we welcome people so beautifully and then they don’t see each other again as a group until graduation.”
Hinkson stressed that this decision is not about a budget, but instead about adding a sophomore experience.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Wolf said. “It’s just that we have [a program] that we were one of the first to develop, and it developed naturally here, and people look at us and copy us.”
Next year, first-year orientation will begin Aug. 27 and end Sept. 1, Hinkson wrote in an email to Pomona students. Students will have a day off before classes begin.
OA for the class of 2023 will be held in August 2020, she wrote. Since next year is the 25th anniversary of OA, Pomona will have a campus-wide celebration throughout the year with trips and other opportunities.
This article was last updated Dec. 7 at 2:18 a.m.