Each year the University welcomes an entirely new set of first years, many of whom have never been to campus before. Many arrive in cars filled to the brim with Target’s entire reservoir of dorm room essentials. Many bring parents who aren’t quite ready to see them leave the nest. However, above all else, they bring with them a wide range of emotions about what lies ahead over their next four years at Wesleyan.
In the hope of helping new students process these feelings, the Office of Student Involvement (OSI) organizes what can in many ways be looked at as a comprehensive crash course on all things Wesleyan: Orientation. The five days’ worth of events, talks, meetings, activities, and campus exploration allows students to not only become better acquainted with the University before classes begin but also makes them aware of what the University offers them and, in turn, what they might bring to campus.
“The Orientation Team aims to create a program that makes incoming students feel prepared to be a contributing member of the Wesleyan Community,” the Wesleyan Orientation website says. “We want to empower students to take autonomy of their Wesleyan experience, which will be unique to all…. By the end of Orientation, students should be aware of the many resources available to them on campus and how to access them.”
This year, similar to years prior, the 745 students that make up the class of 2026 were each assigned to an orientation group. The lead organizer of orientation at Wesleyan, Director of Student Involvement Joanne Rafferty, explained that, for this year’s program, the OSI decided to adopt a new approach when it came to forming these groups.
“This year we grouped students based on their responses to the academic preference form,” Rafferty said. “Over 70 percent [of the class of 2026 asked in feedback surveys on orientation] agreed that they liked how the groups were organized so that they could meet with other students who shared similar academic interests.”
These groups took part in daily activities together and engaged in larger discussions that were led by an orientation leader (OL) who was a member of the class of 2023, 2024, or 2025, and covered several issues that will likely be pertinent to their time at college. In the Company of Others, a presentation of monologues written and presented by current students who discussed their own personal stories focused on issues of identity, was one such event that provoked reflection and thought among the class of 2026 and made for incredibly active group meetings.
Bryan Wolf ’26 was particularly moved by one story that was delivered to his class during the event.
“The fifth WesTalk, In the Company of Others, was a super inspirational point in Orientation,” Wolf said. “The speakers had such incredible messages to share. The woman, especially, who spoke about the experience of undocumented people on campus made me think about my own privilege and how lucky I have been to come to Wesleyan.”
Alex Brun ’23, an OL, reiterated the impact that this event, and others like it, such as Speak About It—a series of educational skits on the topics of sexual health and relationships—left on the students he met during the week.
“After speaking with some freshmen in my small group, it seems that In the Company of Others and Speak About It were among the most memorable events,” Brun said.
Elsewhere, several of the program’s social activities, ranging from karaoke and an open mic night to a Shabbat barbecue and frisbee on Foss, received largely positive feedback from campus’ newest Cardinals, in spite of some initial reluctance to embrace the unique experiences they offered.
“The Silent Disco was a surprisingly fun experience,” Max Marinelli ’26 said. “I had my doubts going in as it seemed inherently antisocial, but I actually ended up dancing with a bunch of new people in a mosh pit.”
The OSI also found that general-interest events, such as In the Company of Others, Common Moment (a collective dance-along on Andrus Field and Foss Hill), the OL-led group meetings, and the nightly social events—specifically the Silent Disco—were cited as highlights or the most liked events in the evaluations they received from students.
For many students, these activities allowed them to immediately connect with peers who shared their specific interests and passions. This placed many of them on a path to finding their people, something which can be a long and at times challenging process in an unfamiliar environment like college.
“As a dancer, I thought the Common Moment was a super fun way of making new friends,” Henry Ewing-Crystal ’26 said. “I felt super in my element, and I actually ended up dancing paired up with an OL right in the front of my group.”
On the other hand, the nature of Orientation, in which students from various backgrounds are brought together, meant that new and perhaps unexpected connections were made. As a student athlete, Rosie Leonard ’26 was able to forge potential links with those further outside of her most obvious, namely athletic, circle.
“I found Orientation a good way to connect with non-student athletes,” Leonard said. “I’ve heard from other upperclassmen on my team that a lot of students only end up remaining friends with those on their teams, but I think I made a lot of people who I really see myself staying friends with.”
Members of past classes can attest to this experience. Brun is particularly close with certain members of his own orientation group. Indeed, since his orientation in 2019, Brun has remained friends with several members of his orientation group and has even been roommates with one of these students since his junior year.
Richard Bennet ’23 echoed these sentiments and the role that Orientation played in helping him form lasting and meaningful relationships, especially as an international student.
“I made some of my best friends during ISO [International Student Orientation],” Bennet said.
Of course, the class of 2023 and the class of 2026 share something that sophomores and juniors don’t. That is the opportunity to attend an in-person orientation, largely unaltered and unaffected by the constraints of a global pandemic. This is perhaps something that has led both entering first-year students and seniors to reflect upon their orientation experiences in a largely positive light, expressing gratitude for what it provided them with.
“I think the difference is clear between an in-person and virtual orientation,” Rafferty said. “I saw large groups of students showing up together at the events, dancing and singing with each other like they had known each other for years. I had several students personally seek me out to thank me and to tell me how much they appreciated the work and thought that went into orientation. That has never happened in my time here at Wes!”
As a first year, the start of college may very well involve a heavy combination of putting up LED string lights, arranging shower caddies, or simply relishing a newfound sense of independence. But it would appear that Orientation and what it offers first-year students is pretty significant too. It’s a chance to lay the foundations for friendships that may last until graduation. It’s a chance to find out what support and resources are available when the realities of college life kick in. Most of all, it’s a chance to come to grips with the people, groups, values, and the many quirks—both good and bad—that make the University what it is.
Tiah Shepherd can be reached at email@example.com.