When it comes to educating young people about drinking, many high schools take a “Mean Girls”-inspired approach. Teachers preach the familiar, “Don’t drink or smoke. You will become a junkie addict drunk driver, and you will die,” and the room grows silent as one teary-eyed victim after another tells us about their alcohol-fueled tragedies. But come Monday, the students continue to trade stories about how wasted everyone was that weekend.
That was why, when I first came to Occidental, I was actually hopeful that a college education would improve on my high school experiences. Think About It was a pain to get through, but was also informative at points. The questions were awkward, but I knew the college had to give us a program like this—it’s called “compliance training,” and it saves them from legal action. I was happy that my new home cared enough to ensure that every incoming freshman knew what the parameters of sexual consent were, and how to stay relatively safe while drinking.
Orientation was similarly boring but bearable, despite a little re-hashing of the same videos and presentations. But the whole thing was only a week, and I figured the worst would be over after that. ResEd, however, had more in store for me.
Cumulatively, Occidental’s First-Year Residency Experience program (FYRE) is a mere six hours spread out over six weeks. In theory, it should not be a big deal, especially since this year’s syllabus is actually scaled back from last year’s inaugural program. Last year, FYRE was modeled like an actual class, with readings, quizzes and even an online blogging component. When ResEd saw that these methods were not effective, they revised the curriculum. The new curriculum shows progress, but not enough. Occidental needs to take the next step and lose FYRE entirely.
I pity the poor Resident Advisor who had to lead my group through the six weeks of FYRE. He was friendly and approachable, even when he knew he was presiding over completely forced discussions. But even he knew that it was a waste of time to spend the better part of an hour making nameplates during week one. Week two meant informing us about the school’s different resources a month after we had all moved in. And it was cruel irony in week five when he took time out of our midterm-studying bender to talk about stress management.
And then there were the two weeks of information repeated verbatim from Think About It. The original online course requires participants to take polls about various social behaviors—how often they drink or how many sexual partners they’ve had, for example—and compare their results to those of their peers. The FYRE version had an interesting pedagogical difference: we were to guess these same poll results and discuss them, and then talk about if they surprised us. I could not imagine anyone was surprised though, seeing as RAs had already put up posters with the same data all over our dorm walls.
Unfortunately, the program’s organizers have had a history of repetition. Not only do they rehash old information during FYRE in our first year, but they also make us repeat it for the next three years in required Think About It sessions over the summer. Responsible drinking is not a skill you can drill like Spanish verb conjugations; forcing the same information will not mature us any further.
If FYRE must remain, though, then let us take next year as an opportunity. Let us ask this year’s class what they really wanted to know about the collegiate transition process. Maybe we can have a session or two on how to avoid gaining the freshman 15, or how to beat the initial homesickness we feel when we first arrive at college. Perhaps ResEd could collaborate with groups like the Queer Student Alliance, Black Student Alliance or La Raza to let first-years know early on about the different resources on campus.
Director of Residential and Housing Services Chad Myers mentioned that he was, in fact, conducting surveys and collecting feedback, but I it has been over a month since the final FYRE session and I have yet to see any such survey.
I do not want to lose hope. I still feel like FYRE does not have to be this way, patronizing us and wasting our time. I do not even know if ResEd knows how ineffective their methods are—the world can seem a lot smaller and isolated in a weekly staff meeting.
Occidental first-years like to think of themselves as adults with valid ideas, and we want to be treated as such. We are new to this college thing, but we know an ineffective program when we see one. Next year, ResEd, read that feedback very, very carefully. I’d hate for you to have to go over it a second time.
Carmen Triola is an undeclared first-year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CarmenTriola.