Columns / Discourse / October 30, 2013

Remembering Orientation: Reflecting on “a shot of reality”

Though it’s the second half of the term and we’re all feeling squeezed thin by both the weather and our homework, I’d like to reflect a little on orientation week. Orientation for me was one of those things that was a pain when it was happening, but that I look back upon fondly. At the time, all I wanted to do was to lie down on my bed for a little while, unpack my stuff and have some time to relax.

Let’s not understate how irritating it was to be booked almost the whole week with events all day long. But there are so many friends I made during those first few days who I still feel close to. The shared inconvenience of having to show up for orientation leader and suite meetings was something that brought all of us closer together. If orientation hadn’t been so demanding, I doubt I’d have felt so connected to the rest of the people around me. I like to think that for those of us who were afraid of meeting new people, orientation took our hand and made sure we found our place.

I have a slight focus for this column, and it’s on “A  Shot of Reality.” I think that it’s hugely important to have events like this for incoming students, but each time I’m struck by the awkwardness that often results.

We, as college students are adults, but we aren’t that far off from the days of being condemned as irresponsible teenagers who throw our evenings away getting drunk and having reckless sex. That memory is fresh, and so there’s always a slightly uncomfortable undertone to a mandatory session on alcohol use. We can all thank our lucky stars that it’s now acceptable to discuss serious things in an entertaining way.

That said, the awkwardness is still there. The feeling is that in some way, the college is pleading with their students to change their behavior, across a gulf that’s just not that crossable. What can we do to fix that?

Whenever there is a message, our trust for the message depends upon our trust of the person giving it, and that trust depends upon how close we feel to them. For me, one of the best events of orientation was “You Are Knox: Alumni and Special Traditions” in Kresge. The speaker had a presence to him that was commanding but also comfortable. It really felt like one of our own was speaking to us. I took him seriously when he told us that it was time to exchange the Knox logo we’d come to know during admissions for our college’s seal, with its old Latin words.

Another of my favorite events was the talk featuring Campus Safety. That event has permanently shaped the way I interact with the Campus Safety workers at Knox. John Schlaf, the Campus Safety director, stood and talked for a long time, and by the time he was done I wanted to shake his hand several times over. This was a man who would give you not only his office number, but also his cell number, and his home number, because he wanted you to be safe, and that was the most important thing to him. He earned my respect. And since then almost every interaction I’ve had with Campus Safety has earned them my respect, as well.

He also presented a video that had been put together by Knox Students, and that made the event more meaningful, as well. You got a sense that we were all in this together.

There should be ways to integrate our students even further into orientation. Perhaps Knox alumni have something to offer to the conversation on alcohol on campus. Perhaps Improv Club could work with the “Shot of Reality” actors to make an even stronger show. Because if Knox knows anything, it’s that when our students work together with our faculty, we can build amazing things.
Thank you, Orientation 2013.

Leland Wright

Tags:  Campus Safety Improv Club John Schlaf Knox alumni Knox College kresge orientation Shot of Reality

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