In this past week’s issue, Caroline Williams argued that “NSO Fails to Orient” students because basic programming does not include specific, technical answers to questions about the school’s computer programs, Gold Cards, meal plan, and class registration. Her proposed solution was that “NSO should incorporate basic tips to navigate CC daily.” The role of the 134 New Student Orientation leaders is by no means to be a wilderness guide or a removed, objective spokesperson for the school. I might go so far to say their job is to incorporate basic tips to navigate CC daily.
Williams expresses that she and her co-leader were “bombarded with basic questions” about life at CC. However, by using reductive language, such as “bombarded,” “attempted to initiate,” and “eventually gave them answers,” she crafts a sense of indifference to the small anxieties that often consume new students.
The other NSO Interns and I worked hard this summer on expanding the evening discussion packet to make it more candid, inclusive, and thorough. We did not give answers, instead offering a list of suggested topics leaders should cover from their own points of view. Maybe my expectations are too high — though I do not feel that they are — but the packet is not a script, and leader pairs are highly intentional. While I never thought it necessary, maybe it is important in NSO training to talk about the need to go off-script, although I hate to even call it that.
NSO leaders are the space-fillers and synthesizers of all of the materials students attempt to digest during orientation week, which is the most special thing I began to fully understand this summer. Over the course of one night on my Priddy Trip this year, my co-leader and I covered the very essential topic of safe-sex, consent and the active “yes,” while discussing the best bathrooms to poop in on campus. The juxtaposition of large-scale, grave topics and what it means to be a lost student wandering through the halls of Armstrong exists in a void that only NSO leaders know how to fill.
While the school gives new students intensive programming on large-scale issues, opportunities, and general orientation to CC, it is the role of the leaders to improvise solutions to the needs of their groups. Coming off a summer of planning this year’s 65 Priddy Trips and soon to lead my sixth, I have found that the concerns of every NSO group inevitably vary. It is disrespectful and unprofessional to treat questions like what Banner looks like, or where the shortest lunch lines are on campus, with disinterest. There is a reason no groups exceeded 12 participants, and the amount of time scheduled into NSO week to meet with your Priddy Trips is more than intentional.
So, whose job is to do what? Unless you genuinely do not know the answer, do not defer any questions. Would you like to see someone stand in front of over 500 incoming students and talk about what happens when you walk into Rastall alone? I’d rather know that my senior leader with everything seemingly figured out built up the courage on her first day to share a table with strangers. If a leader is not prepared to spend time on what they consider to be the small things, then they may have some reflecting to do on what it felt like to be newly 18, away from home for possibly the first time, and confused by Single Sign-In.
I thank my NSO leaders for their blatant honesty off-script, and by off-script, I mean as human beings not solely relying on a sheet of paper to prepare me for my first day of school. While the Title IX, Butler Center, and Wellness Resource Center presentations are crucial elements to integrating into campus life, sometimes the most overwhelming parts of the transition from high school to college are as small as how to not run out of Meal Plan C.
While Williams marks certain first-year concerns as “trivial,” a large part of my hiring of new leaders stemmed from their empathy. The trip binder may explain what a Listserv is, that your Gold Card can act as a debit card at 7-Eleven, or that leaders can open up their laptop and show students how to drop/add classes on Banner. Luckily, leaders are also students who know how to do these things, and utilizing personal experience and being patient with the natural learning curve of first-years is expected of all NSO student employees.