Every August, Duke is given a gift. This gift comes in the form of a new freshman class ripe with malleable, enterprising students who arrive full of hope, anxiety and a deep desire to succeed in their new home. Orientation week, or “O-Week” for short, is designed to do just that—to orient them, to acclimate these wide-eyed students to Duke. We question, however, whether the weeklong orientation program in its current form is the most effective method of ushering in Duke’s newest cohort.
Before assessing the vitality of Duke’s current orientation week, we first ask what the purpose of such a program is. Fundamentally, orientation week serves a two-part function—it should not only acclimate freshmen to their surroundings, but it should also meld students into a cohesive, tight-knit community.
While the current smorgasbord of O-Week offerings does provide students with a strong platform from which they may evaluate and get to know Duke, we believe there is significant room for improving class bonding. Although events like the carnival and pep rallies are geared toward establishing these relationships, freshmen are often so overwhelmed by the hectic day they cannot enjoy the event. The twelve-page event schedule handed to students is packed with enough events, information sessions and meetings to overwhelm students who have been on campus for two years—let alone two days. Furthermore, there should be greater emphasis on upperclassmen mentorship. Although students are paired with First Year Advisory Counselors and Resident Assistants, these resources, while valuable, are often the only student support network the average freshman has going into the first days of class.
There are, however, established programs that are highly successful at fostering relationships—namely, the pre-orientation programs. Although they are sometimes criticized for establishing cliques, pre-orientation programs are an example of how close students can become over the course of less than a week. What better way to bond people than to trek them into the woods and deny them technology and showers? Unfortunately, these five programs cannot accommodate every applicant. The selectivity fosters a perception of an uneven playing field that hinders, rather than contributes to, class unity.
Every Duke student should be able to partake in a pre-orientation trip. Schools like Dartmouth have already opened their programs, which draws 95 percent participation from the incoming class. At Duke, the opportunity to leave campus and interact with fellow students in a stress-free environment could both forge organic relationships and relieve the social pressures related to drinking and status that haunt freshmen from the moment they arrive. Perhaps such a program would stymie the increasing volume of EMS calls. Duke should emulate these programs and invest more money in pre-orientation trips, so no students are turned away.
Admittedly, a weeklong trip followed by a week of orientation would be overwhelming. We thus propose an orientation week where students would spend two days on campus undergoing the important information sessions before embarking on randomly assigned three-day excursions to the beaches and mountains of North Carolina. Such outings would allow students to both explore campus and solidify long-lasting relationships.