Student experiences with Orientation ’23-’24 indicate more change in campus life
OLs posed in front of Hamilton "Ham" Center at Orientation '23-'24. (Photo Courtesy of Lydia Ubry.)

Student experiences with Orientation ’23-’24 indicate more change in campus life

For decades, New College has been well-known for allowing students a significant amount of independence in their education. Whether it has come in the form of student-led course projects such as the Catalyst or creating special Areas of Concentration (AOCs), New College’s attitude toward academics and campus life has historically been student-centric. The welcoming process of orientation has been a staple in this tradition. Over the years, students have occupied paid positions as Orientation Leaders (OLs) and Student Ambassadors to greet rising first-years and introduce them to the distinct educational landscape that New College provides. In the past, these student employees have been given the freedom to lead orientation alongside supervisors employed by the Office of Transition and Family Programs. But this year students report that this aspect of orientation has changed to shift more responsibilities to administrators. 

In multiple Catalyst interviews, OLs offered context by describing what the job looked like for the 2022-2023 academic year. In June 2022, Associate Director of Student Success Kaylie Stokes (’16) left New College and Associate Director for Transition and Family Programs Joe Moore took over the responsibility of coordinating Orientation.

“Last year, we had a new supervisor named Joe Moore, and we had a lot more staff that were regularly working on Orientation, in addition to all of the OLs,” third-year OL Lydia Ubry said. “It was very much directed by the students. We were able to design T-shirts and plan our own evening events. We got to work in small teams to figure those things out. It was very much a camp counselor kind of vibe.”

“When Moore came in, he was really awesome about the change in command, and he was very thorough in making sure we went through all the processes like HR training and breaking down our schedules,” thesis student OL Rosa Martinez said. 

“I think he [Moore] handled the transition really well. I speak very highly of him,” thesis student OL McKenna Mooney said. “It was definitely more of a typical New College Orientation last year.”The ’23-’24 Orientation made headlines in late August when the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that OLs were told to remove pins that represented Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Pride. Although there has been no precedent for New College employees asking students to remove such pins at Orientation, Interim President Richard Corcoran cited the need to make young first-years feel welcome as they leave home for the first time.

Screenshots of Interim President Richard Corcoran’s comments on social media.

Students expanded on the differences between ’23-’24 Orientation and ’22-’23.

“This year, we didn’t have as many people,” Ubry observed. “Almost every other staff member dropped, aside from two. It was a very small group doing it this year.”

“Given that we had a massive amount of incoming students, more than we had initially anticipated, my group was 22 students, and typically it’s 15 max,” Mooney recalled.

“We could all tell, especially the returners, that the administration wanted to take those creative reins that we had in the past,” Ubry said. “We were feeling immense pressures of ‘no creativity.’ We also didn’t get any sort of say or input as to what we’re doing in terms of the content in presentations or student activities, whereas in the past, we got to come up with those ideas on our own.”

An example of responsibility shifting from students to administrators was the design plans for Orientation T-shirts and merchandise. Mooney and Martinez were the two OLs who collaborated to create this year’s student designs.

“We had an idea for the OL T-shirt where we pinpoint different elements of New College’s geographic locations that bring people together,” Mooney said. 

“There was a bit of discussion about not trying to ‘rock the boat,’ so we decided to focus on physical elements that represent parts of campus,” Martinez noted. 

“Rosa and I took the creative direction with this design in particular and we took turns designing each little element. We put hours into this work,” Mooney said.

According to Martinez, “The designs were at least two to three days of work. I had to teach myself how to use ProCreate, but I have a lot of pride and integrity towards my work so I wanted to make sure I presented something good.”

Scrapped designs for Orientation ’23-’24, created by Rosa Martinez and McKenna Mooney. (Photo Courtesy of McKenna Mooney.)

The initial reception was nothing short of glowing. 

“The orientation team was ecstatic about our design,” Mooney stated. “They were talking about how they wanted to use it for items beyond the OL T-shirts. We were very supported by our supervisor and everyone that was encouraging us to utilize this creative freedom that we are typically given.”

“When I presented it to my bosses, particularly Daniel [Schell], who’s no longer with us at the school, he was super on board with our creations,” Martinez echoed. “But we came back and we got an announcement that some of those elements are no longer going to be utilized. So, they streamlined our banner-making and some of those items students worked on had been chopped. I assumed it has something to do with the rebrand of the school.”

“From my perspective, once this design reached the higher administration level, it was on the chopping block,” Mooney commented. “At first, it was because they didn’t like the old New College colors, but at some point it was just completely cut altogether.”

In place of the designs focusing on the various New College locations, Orientation merchandise featured Mighty Banyans-inspired graphics, including shirts depicting the mascot. In the wake of the rejection of their design, Martinez called upon the recently-formed Novo Collegian Alliance (NCA). 

“Rosa reached out to the NCA about them using our design to make sure it’s still used because it does encapsulate a lot about the New College experience,” Mooney confirmed.

In addition to OL responsibilities changing, these students reported differing levels of student engagement throughout the week of Orientation. 

“There were definitely concerns of OLs not feeling as connected to orientees as they had in the past,” Mooney commented. 

According to Ubry, “There was a very evident divide between students that are traditionally attracted to New College and the new athletes. I was leading a group of 42 students, and I was giving a presentation on the Student Evaluation System (SES), something important for a new student. I had a group of seven or eight [new students] that were talking amongst themselves and not trying to be quiet. In the middle of the presentation, they all just got up and left.”

“I’ve been working in the Student Success Center (SSC) and I’ve had a lot of new students come in [recently] and ask us how to do a contract, even though that’s a topic we go in-depth on during Orientation meetings,” Martinez said. 

OLs voiced a desire for incoming students to buy into New College’s culture academically, which is why the lack of connection during Orientation caused concern. 

“New College is a very special place. We don’t work like every other school,” Mooney added. “It is important to be very involved in Orientation and soak in as much information as possible.”

OLs also said they realized that incoming students might have certain visions of New College’s academics that returning students are not familiar with. 

Mooney said, “I had a lot of new students asking me what Sports Medicine classes would be offered this semester. From what I heard from them, they fully came in under the impression that there is a Sports Medicine AOC.”

“I do think that new students might have certain expectations that don’t fit the reality,” Martinez noted. “There are a lot of students potentially studying Business, Finance or Sports Medicine, which made me wonder if there is any infrastructure [for these programs.] In that way, it worries me that these students were sold something we can’t give.”

Despite not officially offering AOCs in any of the above categories, New College’s academic system does allow students the freedom to build a unique major, though the question still remains whether the school can support these new incoming student endeavors. In the end, OLs said they hope progress can be made in the relationship between traditional New College students and the athletes. 

“It’s not that there’s any malice between them, but neither party is reaching out to the other wanting to make a connection,” Ubry concluded.

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