Do the words orientation and mandatory go together?
San Jose State requires that all incoming students complete all facets of the orientation program. In an effort to ensure that students stay for the full program student leaders take attendance multiple times during the first day, students are kept busy until 11 PM and then send directly back to the residence halls and are not given keys to the outside door. Additional steps are taken to ensure that students are never allowed too much time or freedom to wander off and miss vital or not so vital parts of the program.
I am completely aware of the rational for having an absolutely mandatory program. I am sure that if certain parts weren’t mandatory most students would be skipping out on them and then they would fail to return or get lost and not make it to the truly vital parts, like registering for classes, receiving advising, getting their student IDs, etc. It is much easier to have one standard for everyone and create policies and procedures that reflect that standard. Despite my understanding of this policy I am left with some doubts, after all isn’t orientation supposed to be a introduction into being a college student? And isn’t college all about choice? After all, the most elemental thing about college, going to class, isn’t mandatory and neither are all the supplemental elements like getting involved in a campus group, going to professor office hours, using the library, or obtaining an internship. If college is all about choice, then why is there so little choice given to orientation students.
I have two answers that help me quiet these questions. One is that orientation students need to be aware of their new freedoms before they use them. Orientation should be a time where they learn about the fact that they don’t HAVE TO go to class, but that the consequences for skipping out can be dire. They need to learn about all the extra activities, clubs and services they can receive before they can go about deciding which, if any, they want to use. In other words, they need to be at all the programs we provide so that they can gain the best understanding of their new surroundings.
My other rationale for the mandatory program comes down to challenge and support. It would be a great challenge to let students make their way around campus by themselves, decide which sessions to attend and when to come back to the residence halls at night. However, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or orientation staff members available to provide all the support that would be necessary to ensure that all of these students could succeed in meeting these new challenges. That’s why orientation has to be what it is: a chance to learn about all facets of college life, not a chance to live it.