Frosh Week undergoes some big changes

Above: Members of the York Orientation Directors Association gather at one of their regular meetings to plan Welcome Week 2009

Social orientation for York’s new class of undergraduates will be a lot different this year. Yes, there will still be the games, trips, crazy antics and good times to connect new students with York but, for the first time in many years, events will be held later than before and run beyond the start of classes. This should also be one of the best-organized orientations in York memory, says Frank Cappadocia, director of York’s Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development (SCLD).

Left: Two McLaughlin College frosh bosses yuk it up at Welcome Week 2008

Welcome Week – or Frosh Week as it’s called by many of York’s nine colleges – will begin Sept.6, a full two weeks later than in past years, in order to time it closer to residence move-in days Sept. 5 and 7. The later start also gives students with seasonal jobs a chance to join the party without having to leave them before summer’s end. Previously, Welcome Week started in the last week of August before many students arrived. The new dates match those at most other universities in the GTA.

Now that the big event is almost upon us, Cappadocia says he is excited about the changes and proud of the way students have responded to the challenge. “People sometimes underestimate our students,” he says “but they are incredibly creative people who can do amazing things.”

Welcome Week’s activities are organized by the York Orientation Directors Association (YODA), the group representing the college councils. Each college sends its president and “O” chair to the YODA committee, where they coordinate events with other councils – while maintaining responsibility as the primary agents for orientation programming. Cappadocia chaired the meetings and brought his years of experience to the table.

Student decision-making and involvement in every aspect of the events is a high priority, says Cappadocia. Committee members work directly with other stakeholders on campus – such as those responsible for food services, security and facilities – to work through the logistical challenge Welcome Week presents every year. What could be daunting for an individual student or an individual council is much easier through YODA, says Cappadocia, and because student leaders knew that he had no wish to micromanage their events, the group worked well together and the meetings went smoothly.

Daytime and full-day events run through Sept. 8, the day before classes begin – a schedule that did not sit well with some college council presidents. However, thanks to a compromise reached between the college councils and SCLD, some evening and weekend events will continue through Sept. 13. “It’s half as long as last year because of the strike but we’re making the best of it,” said Krista Heidrich, vice-president social/cultural of Vanier College Council.

“There’s a great possibility that our attendance could be up because there will be people in classes and it gives them a chance to know each other a little bit more,” said Glendon “O” Chair Keith Morris. “But it’s a little too early to tell.”

Salony Mirchandani, vice-president social at New College – York’s newest student government representing students within the School of Administrative Studies, the School of Human Resource Management and the School of Information Technology – says orientation makes the students’ first experience of York more real. “It’s what university life is like. The Faculty, school and social life integrate together. I think it teaches them a balance."

One of the biggest changes is one most new students won’t see but will certainly benefit from: better training for the approximately 720 frosh bosses who make it all happen. “We have totally revamped the training,” says Cappadocia. “We heard from student leaders that they weren’t really excited about the training in the past, so we invited them to suggest what it should be.” The result, says Cappadocia, is a program that challenges the students to set higher standards for themselves and one that he says “leaps ahead of many other universities” in its scope and intensity.

Right: Vanier College frosh bosses celebrate the new school year at Welcome Week 2008

Cappadocia says the organizational work and leadership training is an important – and mandatory – part of each college council president’s job as student leaders. For instance, YODA has worked closely with the director of the Centre for Human Rights, Noel Badiou, and with the York Federation of Students to develop a new program on “Respect and Inclusivity" as part of Orient the Leader (OTL) training, which takes place over two days (Aug. 29 and 30 and repeating again on Sept. 3 and 4).  Sessions also includes detailed examination of issues such as leadership, accountability, risk management, and “real-time” exercises in harm reduction methods.

So why do students sign up to be frosh leaders? “We’ve all experienced it ourselves in our first year and for many of us it was the best week of our lives,” says Greg Langstaff, president of Stong College Student Government. “Not only is it a chance to relive that, it’s also an opportunity to give back to the students.”

This will be Cappadocia’s last Welcome Week at York after four-and-a-half years with the University. As soon as its over, he will head off to Lakehead University’s Orillia campus after accepting a position as assistant dean student affairs.

Welcome Week Facts

The official orientation period, which includes academic orientation events organized by the college masters, will run from Tuesday, Sept. 1 through Wednesday, Sept. 9, with three full days of social orientation programming on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of that period. Some activities will continue in the evenings and through the weekend of Sept. 11 to 13.

This year there is an orientation Facebook page where people can keep track of what’s going on and connect with other frosh. York students can also learn more about Orientation on the York RED Zone Twitter site.

For links to information on each college’s events and those at the Schulich School of Business at York University, visit York’s Social Orientation Web site.