As of next fall, Multicultural Student Orientation will cease to be offered to incoming freshmen. But fear not – the core elements of the orientation will now become incorporated into the class-wide New Student Orientation (NSO), with International Student Orientation unaffected by the change.
Director of the Center for Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantez says the shake up was introduced for a variety of reasons. With the creation of the SPARK Summer Bridge Program, which helps students who come in needing additional help, specifically with writing and math, some of the pressure has come off of Multicultural Student Orientation (MSO) to give first generation students, particularly students of color, the boost they need to make the transition from high school to college.
In addition, fluctuating attendance for MSO, which often corresponds with what time of the week the orientation begins, has generated an attendance range of 35 to over a hundred. Though even as MSO attendance fluctuates, a message of diversity and exploring identity has grown on campus, with Intergroup Dialogue courses being offered and diversity workshops instituted for student clubs and fraternities.
“Given all those dynamics, we looked at the feedback from Multicultural Student Orientation and looked at the ways in which some of the other conversations were shifting. Can we take the best of MSO [and] find ways to integrate that into New Student Orientation?” Cervantez said.
The answer the orientation committee landed on was a hopeful yes. Associate Dean of Students Shawn Wilson, who also leads orientation, said, “It’s one of those things where we wanted all of our students to have a similar experience. So we are still looking at what pieces and looking at the data we had from previous years of MSO, [and see] what pieces of MSO did students respond to very well.”
Cervantez identified three key elements of the MSO orientation to retain for NSO. The first entails touring cultural houses on campus, where new students meet members of that house and play games and eat food with them. The members of the houses also introduce students to the organizations that are run in collaboration with the cultural houses.
Another element is the student panel, which allows new students to have “real conversations” with orientation leaders about what life at Knox is like. During MSO, this discussion centered around the experiences of students of color and the questions orientation leaders had while they were freshmen. An important element of this discussion was to have students recognize that their questions were normal and give them space to ask those questions.
Lastly, Cervantez talked about the “Perceptions and Perspectives” workshop, also known colloquially as “Agree/Disagree.” Students are encouraged in this activity to engage with other students’ views and learn from their peers/ differing opinions.
Cervantez anticipates that broadening the student participants will create some difficulties. “There is always a challenge when you do workshops because folks wonder when you host something based on identity, are you excluding other identities?” She also noted that they will have to negotiate the challenges of students with multiple identities who may have to decide between applicable workshops to attend.
Cervantez also emphasized the interpersonal element of orientation as well. “Consent, communication, that information is real and necessary, but it’s also what is happening in that room and understanding how your classmates are receiving that information,” Cervantez said. “So that at the end of the day, being part of this community means we’re all taking that step together to say that we’re going to be responsible members in this community.”