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Committee gathers community feedback on Orientation, again

This past Monday, the Review Committee on Orientation, which was formed in March to examine and re-evaluate MIT’s orientation, held its second forum this semester to “put its ears to the ground” and gather community feedback on the pros and cons of various components of orientation. All the efforts of this committee would go into modifying the orientation two years from now, which would likely be “tweaked” rather than “overhauled,” said committee chair Merritt R. Smith, with next year’s orientation remaining unchanged. The meeting included a presentation and a public forum, where students and staff spoke about FPOPs, REX, greek rush, and CityDays.

Smith presented some of the guiding principles and findings of the committee thus far. Smith said the most important question for the committee is: “Will [changing orientation] make the experience of first-year students better?”

During the presentation, Smith said that the committee wants to ensure that first-year students feel welcome at MIT and its residential communities, settle into their selection of classes, become aware of issues they might encounter during the year, and learn how to get help when the “inevitable pressures of MIT” begin to mount. The committee will be giving a report to Dean Chris Colombo and Dean Daniel E. Hastings ’78 sometime in December or January.

At this point, the committee “is in no position to make any recommendations” and is still gathering information, Smith said. An additional forum may be held in January to get additional feedback.

Smith said that the committee focused on four areas: REX, Orientation, Rush, and FPOPs, and said that the entire orientation period amounted to a $656,675 loss to MIT (not including Rush) from housing for early returns, food, and space usage — though they said cost would not be a big factor in their decision. The committee’s said that freshmen are more overall satisfied with their orientation experience and feel more connected to MIT when compared to the orientation surveys conducted in 1997 and other those of other universities today. Smith identified the main successes of orientation as helping first-years meet, introducing them to off-campus activities, and getting them settled into classes.

The findings also reflected that students were more satisfied this year with summer dorm assignments and had “overwhelmingly positive” experiences with their FPOPs. With Rush, the committee reported that many students felt as if they did not have much time to make a decision, though participation in Rush did not correlate with satisfaction with orientation. When it comes to advising, which could “benefit from increased faculty participation,” meetings with advisors and associate advisors are reportedly slightly more helpful than in 1997. The committee also wants to explore how to continue discussions of topics like alcohol awareness and sexual harassment into the year via living groups.

A Public Forum

The latter half of the event constituted an open forum where members of the MIT community could provide feedback. Kristi G. Kebinger, Community Volunteer Administrator from the Public Service Center, spoke about how participants of the Freshman Urban Program (FUP) benefit from community involvement and individual introspection, and also spoke about how the community benefited from both FUP and CityDays, an Institute-sponsored day of volunteering. The committee inquired about the merging of the two, which may be explored in the future.

Some students also spoke up about the benefits of FUP and other “developmental” (as opposed to academic) FPOPs — namely the Freshman Arts Program (FAP, Freshman Outdoors Program (FOP), and Freshman Leadership Program (FLP) — and also about how CityDays was a substitute for students who could not participate in an FPOP. The committee said that its members “recognize the value of all FPOPs” and do not plan on doing away with them.

Another student asked if the committee had considered doing away with REX altogether since she didn’t think it was doing its job and was losing money. The committee replied that the data showed that REX was helping people meet each other and “find their way around social MIT.” The committee members said that they want REX to focus more on community building and not be limited to occurring before the housing readjustment lottery deadline.

Many students were also there for issues regarding FSILG rush. Affiliates from Epsilon Theta, Phi Kappa Theta, and other FSILGs spoke in defense of the current timing of Rush and Recruitment, saying that, though the only con seems to be “Rush being too rushed,” there are many benefits to an early Rush. One recent alumnus recalled that Recruitment was moved to Orientation from IAP for many good reasons — particularly the fact that some sororities have national regulations that they must follow that necessitate an early Recruitment — and said that the Institute seems to be forgetting its own decisions. Students also emphasized the “uniqueness” of MIT living groups in that they have their own methods of mentorship and community. Students said that Rush is also at a good time in the beginning of the year because freshmen benefit from pass/no record and FSILG members have more free time to recruit. A later Rush could see stressed freshmen, busy upperclassmen, and inclement weather.

—Bruno B. F. Faviero