Some 500 students volunteer to lead orientation activities

Student orientation activities at York are fast approaching, but before they take place about 500 students voluntarily undergo training on how to be a social orientation leader. Their main purpose is to welcome the new students and be available to assist in keeping order during social orientation festivities. At York, social orientation is separate from the academic orientation events run by the various colleges.

“The student orientation leaders are usually all stoked up when they come to the training session,” said Brian Poser, who until recently was manager of student success and retention in the Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development (SC&LD) and handled the orientation planning phase.

The social-orientation leader training teaches the volunteers what the SC&LD expects of them and gives them a vision of how orientation events will flow. It doesn’t hurt that they also get free food, clothes and go on day trips.

“They learn what their roles and responsibilities are, how to position the University and the colleges in a positive light, how to manage a crisis should one arise and to uphold the no drinking rule,” said Poser. “The training is not just about reading the Riot Act. It reminds them of what their overarching responsibility is, but it is primarily about welcoming students and helping those students, through orientation, to be academically successful.”

In addition to learning about the rules and responsibilities, the students will learn how to handle an emergency or crisis situation. “We train them to deal with everything from ‘Oh gosh, I lost my wallet or I didn’t bring enough sunscreen’ to much more serious situations,” said Poser. “So they learn what the routines are and what the appropriate steps to take are. It’s important for them to know how to interface with security and other University services.”

Last year, however, student orientation leaders did have to deal with a seriously ill student. That experienced showed Poser that training works. The orientation leaders handled the situation correctly and contacted the appropriate people. “We have a calling tree to manage those things and it works,” said Poser.

The students will also receive social justice training. “It’s the first time we’ve done this sort of thing,” said Candice McCavitt, chair of the York Orientation Directors Association (YODA). “There has been inclusivity training before, but not social justice training. It is also the first time it’s been done at this scale here. It’s pretty big that way.”

While the regular training takes place in large groups encompassing all the colleges, the social justice training is a two-hour session lead by specially trained facilitators for individual college groups of 60 people or less. The nature of the training requires both group collaboration and support and so is best done in smaller groups

“The goal is to have the student orientation leaders be more conscious and aware of social justice issues and diversity at York, including the different forms of social oppression that exist even among their peers with the hope they will act upon that and become agents of social change,” said McCavitt.

The social justice training is a partnership between the SC&LD, YODA, the York Federation of Students and the Office of the Ombudsperson & Centre for Human Rights at York.

Although the training sessions may sound droll and boring, Poser says they try to infuse them with a little fun and excitement.

The process of recruiting orientation leaders begins in the spring when each college council, along with the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, the Schulich School of Business and Glendon, invites students to apply to be an orientation leader. The candidates are interviewed for suitability by the college councils who are looking for people with leadership experience or who have some experience in organizing an event.

“It’s a great way to see the student spirit at York. Some of them come to training with their faces painted. They all come wearing their college colours,” said Poser. “Here are students giving up about 120 hours of their time for the love of their college and the University. To get to work with those spirited students with that much commitment to their colleges is exciting.”

The volunteer social orientation leader training session takes place on Aug. 23, followed the next day by the start of social orientation events organized by each college council. These events focus on helping students to get to know the campus, meet other students in their program or residence and to celebrate the start of university. Most social orientation activities run from Aug. 24 to Sept. 1, except for the Schulich School of Business which is holding social orientation events from mid-afternoon on Aug. 26 to Aug. 28.

Visit the York Orientation Web site for more information on social and academic orientation.