Seniors bring fun back into orientation

Photo by Lynn Shen '19

Photo by Lynn Shen '19


Out of the five orientations Cameron Vilain ’17 has taken part in, this one was her best yet. Unlike her previous orientations, this time Vilain and Kalyani Kannan ’17 were in charge. 

Vilain and Kannan spent the summer as Orientation Fellows at Mount Holyoke, reworking orientation to focus on community building. According to Vilain, “Our big goal was to bring fun back into orientation. It was so serious in years past. For [firsties’] first glimpse of college, this sets the stage for the entire rest of their year.”

The first major difference brought about by the orientation overhaul was its length. Instead of having several days of programming, the Orientation Fellows whittled it down to one day for moving-in and three days of mandatory activities focused on wellness and social life. 

Unlike years past, there was less emphasis on weighing down new students with details of the College’s policies. “The thing is that the students will learn the policies through time, but what we really wanted was them to be able to build their community up so that they would feel more comfortable as soon as they got onto campus,” said Vilain.

Though at first glance it appeared counter-intuitive, in order to focus on community building, the Fellows got rid of small group breakout sessions that were usually led by Orientation Leaders. That job was instead placed in the hands of the Community Advisors. For Vilain, it made more sense for the CAs to have these discussions with the new students in their halls because they would have the rest of the school year to sustain the connections made during that time. Orientation Leaders such as Sarah Hwang ’17 could then focus on being “spirit-headers,” who kept the new students enthusiastic and energized.

Though Vilain is proud of this year’s orientation, she recognizes that in some areas, programming can still be improved. “The direction that we’re headed in the future is to have programming specifically for other disadvantaged or underrepresented student populations,” she said. “My goal would be to bring programming surrounding first-generation [college] students of color ... my vision is that orientation will be much more intersectional and focused in broadly supporting all our student body.”

Although orientation may still be a work in progress, Veronica Drake ’20 found this year’s revamped version to be useful. “It was really well-rounded, and I thought I learned a lot about the academic part and how it will be to live here.” While she said that a little more downtime would have been nice, “[Orientation] got me ready, so by the time classes started it was all fresh in my mind. I felt very prepared for it.”