first-year students enjoy Nintendo World at Orientation Week (photo by U of T News)

Behind the scenes at Orientation 2012

They scrawled on each other’s shirts for Graffiti Night, cheered on the Varsity Blues football team, braved late-night “ghost tours” of the downtown campus, took part in a charity busker festival and visited Hart House Farm.  

Welcome to Orientation Week 2012 – the culmination of months of hard work by students and staff at the University of Toronto.

“I’m amazed at how we can all cheer as one big group,” says Vere-Marie Khan, a first year St. Michael’s College student. “When everyone is cheering, you really get a sense of the entire U of T being one big community.” 

The university’s three campuses welcomed thousands of new students from across Canada and around the world this week for what is colloquially known as Frosh Week. It’s an opportunity to make friends, get acquainted with their new surroundings and experience their first taste of university life.

“I’m surprised I’m not homesick yet,” says Ariana Malekzai, a first year Innis College student. “But that’s because I feel so welcomed here.”

First year New College student Timur Gomellya echoes the sentiment.

“I’ve enjoyed all the games and icebreaker events – I’ve definitely met a lot of new people.” 

To stage this successful week of programming, teams of students and staff across U of T’s three campuses begin working as early as March to coordinate all the different aspects of the week. Themes are among the first items decided upon by the orientation coordinators and this year’s include Tabula Rasa at Trinity College, Gnu Done It? at New College and Limitless at U of T Scarborough.

One of the more creative themes is St. Michael’s College’s Nintendo World. It’s not about screen time; first-year students take part in activities aimed at building excitement, surprises and character development.

“It’s a cool concept. Games are used as the theme for St. Michael’s frosh,” explains Khan. “Students are split up into five groups (Donkey Kong, Kirby, Pokémon, Mario, and Zelda) which compete against each other in games and activities.”

A key aspect of the New College orientation is a focus on the large population of commuter students. The marquee event of the week, a block party on the streets surrounding the college, has been planned in coordination with the TTC schedule in order to make the event as accessible as possible.

Laurel Chester,  co-chair of the New College orientation week, says that although there was a steep learning curve, the experience has taught her how to work effectively with a team, how to budget, and plan.

“It is like controlling a million working parts,” says Chester. “So it took some time to figure out how to productively manage them all.”

Although much of the planning takes place at the collegiate level, recent years have brought an increased focus on integration and collaboration. The Office of Student Life brings together orientation coordinators throughout the summer to discuss key issues and find ways to effectively collaborate.

Josh Hass, who oversees orientation and transition in the Office of Student Life, describes his role as being an “advisor, educator and facilitator for all three campuses.”

Hundreds of upper-year students serve as orientation leaders during Frosh Week – after participating in Student Life’s Joint Orientation Leader Training. The training covers equity and inclusivity, bystander intervention, handling a conflict situation, identifying and referring students in difficulty or crisis, and alcohol awareness.

“The key message is that our orientation leaders are our front line people and that they are the ones that make orientation safe, welcoming, inclusive and fun,” says Hass.

Chester is looking forward to cheering and watching the New College bed race up King's College, playing video games in the library and jumping in the Lash Miller fountain.

Those bed races can bring out strong competitive instincts, say orientation leaders.

“I’m always looking forward to the bed races. There’s one person on a bed, while four others push it,” says Frosh Marshal Rebecca Morgan, a fourth-year student at St. Michael’s College. “SMC has won 8 of the races from the past 9 years, so we’ve got a tradition to keep.” 

Jake Brockman is a fourth-year student at Trinity College

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