The O-Week conundrum

File photo by Ryan Hueglin
File photo by Ryan Hueglin

As most people are aware, classes are starting earlier than usual this year — beginning on Thursday, Sept. 4, rather than the following Monday — because of the newly adopted fall reading days in October.

Being that classes are beginning earlier, I of course assumed O-Week would be cut short. But to my surprise I discovered O-Week would be running it’s usual course, with activities on Thursday and Friday, despite the fact that most people will have classes on those days.

During the day on Thursday and Friday programming is referred to as “passive,” meaning it is not mandatory. However, it would be foolish to think incoming first-years and icebreakers aren’t going to have to choose between going to class and participating in the activities.

I’m not against the concept of O-Week, however I can’t help but see flaws within it.

First of all, most incoming first-years come here without knowing many other people and often feel overwhelmed. This is exacerbated by the fact that they are segregated into groups of strangers that they may feel pressured to interact with at the risk of being socially ostracized otherwise.

In many cases when students begin university, they are taken away from the established groups they have grown to feel comfortable in, and put into a new group and given the identity of a “Golden Hawk.”

I don’t think there is anything wrong with ensuring first-years get comfortable with their peers, but O-Week can be quite alienating, especially when you feel so isolated from the groups you have always felt comfortable in. When people feel uncomfortable and pressured to fit in with this new group, they often do whatever they can to fit in.

Therefore, it isn’t a coincidence that so many students binge drink during the week. They want to be accepted and perhaps drinking is perceived as the easiest way to achieve this.

This year, another issue has been added into this equation: choosing between going to class and participating in events with your team on Thursday and Friday.

Many first-years are going to feel the pressure to fit in with this group of people by missing class to hang out with them. It may be true that the first class for many courses don’t involve much lecturing, however professors often talk about major assignments and it’s an opportunity to get to know fellow terrified classmates.

In other words, it’s not a waste of time. Furthermore, speaking from experience, missing class is a dangerous precedent to set on the very first day of your university career. Not to mention you’re paying a lot of money to be there.
Icebreakers are faced with the same conundrum: hang out with your team or go to class. Keeping O-Week the same length despite an overlap with classes demonstrates a blatant lack of concern for academics.

I’ve always been an advocate for the university experience being much more than just academics, however making students choose between socializing and going to class so early in the year is problematic.

I understand the passive programming is an attempt to say, “hey, classes are important too,” but it just isn’t enough. It sends the message that learning isn’t important by making it in competition with O-Week activities. I also understand the experience of volunteering during O-Week is really important to many students, however it’s is not about them. It’s about the incoming students, who would not even notice if the week were shortened because they’ve never experienced it.

New students are vulnerable, nervous and want to fit in. Professors are going to show up to their first year classes, in many cases travelling some distance to do so, and it will probably be pretty barren.

I hate bringing it down to peer pressure, but that’s what we’re dealing with. Unless you all prove me wrong,
However, I genuinely think the Students’ Union needs to reevaluate how O-Week is structured.

It won’t be the end of the world if the week gets shortened. It’s time for some genuine innovation instead of doing things the same way year after year.

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