"“We thought it was important to have a different voice, but also a male from the Black community, whose overall message was that regardless of your gender or what you look like it’s OK to ask for help."
Incoming students attending orientation last August may have been surprised to find the program included Wes Woodson, a recent college graduate, author, professional public speaker, and storyteller, telling of his struggles with anxiety and mental health. After all, orientation has traditionally been a time when new students simply met their new classmates, started to learn their way around campus, and began the process of transitioning to their new lives as college students.
However, recent changes in society – from the pandemic to the national outcry for racial justice to the #MeToo movement to the fact that many young people today are suffering from stress and anxiety – led BSU administrators to rethink orientation. Hence, last year’s speaker discussing his mental health, among many other changes.
“We thought it was important to have a different voice, but also a male from the Black community, whose overall message was that regardless of your gender or what you look like it’s OK to ask for help,” said Heather Flatto, director of administration and planning in the Division for Student Life.
A speaker like Mr. Woodson is just one element of an orientation program that has been overhauled and expanded to better meet the needs of today’s students. Indeed, when Bridgewater State University welcomed students back in person at the beginning of the current school year as COVID restrictions were eased, those new to campus were greeted with an expanded orientation program designed to make sure every student feels at home on campus and is best prepared to succeed.
“The overarching goal was to have students feel welcomed at BSU and to help them with their enrollment steps to make sure they are more prepared to start the first day of class,” Ms. Flatto said.
Orientation at BSU now consists of four parts, known collectively as the Crimson Experience, all geared to ensure the process is more intentional and more personalized, Ms. Flatto added. They are:
- Bear Launch: This includes a phone call with a current student leader. The incoming first-year and transfer student is congratulated for choosing BSU and apprised of all the steps necessary to complete enrollment.
- Checkpoint Program: This one-day event held each June brings incoming students and their families to campus where they are provided with hands-on help with the final steps of completing their enrollment-related checklist.
- Crimson Days: This two-and-a-half-day program allows first-year and transfer students to move to campus early. During this time, incoming Bears first learn about the institution’s values, meet with faculty and deans, get acquainted with the campus and connect to a number of key BSU resources. But that’s not all, Ms. Flatto said: “They also get to have some fun with their peers.”
- Bear Connections: This initiative lasts the entire first semester and pairs each incoming student with a current Bear who offers support throughout those all-important first months on campus. A weekly newsletter and other resources are made available, and newcomers to campus are put at ease, knowing all their questions will be answered.
Throughout the orientation process, students are encouraged to be themselves and to self-identify as they begin their journey to becoming full-fledged members of the BSU community.
“One of the things we do is we give the students tags to wear with their preferred name and give them the opportunity to add their preferred pronoun,” Ms. Flatto said.
Students may also wear any number of ribbons pinned to their nametags to let their new classmates know about their heritage, interests and challenges. There are ribbons for ALANA/BIPOC students, first-generation students, students who identify as neuro-diverse, LGBTQ+ students and many others.
“This helps students showcase aspects of their identity and find others like themselves simply by looking at their nametags.
“It’s been really comforting and exciting for those students,” Ms. Flatto said.