Changes to orientation programming benefit students

At a university as large as the University of Texas at Austin, there are a lot of areas in need of improvement. A lot of these improvements can be made as soon as the university chooses to make them. This summer, as the university seeks to improve upon campus life with restructured summer orientation, we are glad they feel the same way.

When older classes entered the university, summer orientation felt like a series of chores and rushed meetings that left little opportunity to connect with campus or other students.

But, this summer, the university will mandate only two wing meetings, instead of five, along with several small-group meetings, which Joey Williams, communications coordinator for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said has a positive impact on student success and retention.

The university has also transferred less exciting lectures, like the Bevonomics personal finance program, to an electronic medium. These shifts will make orientation a more engaging experience without detracting from student learning.

While the number of courses offered at orientation will be roughly the same, there will be fewer required, which will create more time for students to connect with campus and each other.

The emphasis on community, in conjunction with other programs, allows for more free time and sends the message that safety and respect are integral parts of campus culture from the freshman class’ first day.

This summer, the New Students Services Office and University Health Services’ Health Promotion Resource Center will partner to launch Think About It, an online education program, at orientations. The four-pronged interactive system aims to educate incoming students on alcohol and drug use, similar to older classes’ experience with Alcohol Edu.

The program implements interactive features that collect and source data to participants with a follow-up feature eight weeks into the fall semester to monitor student health. According to Jessica Wagner, manager of health promotion at UHS, checking student expectations of partying and relationships is a vital step towards creating healthier behaviors.

Think About It also includes two education sections on sexual assault and healthy relationships. The inclusion of relationship violence in mandatory health training for all incoming students will emphasize safety in our campus culture. According to Counseling and Mental Health Center employee and Voices Against Violence prevention specialist Erin Burrows, preventing campus sexual assaults begins with such education and awareness.

No online education program can totally eliminate the issues of risky partying and sexual violence. But we see potential in the inclusion of sexual violence in a conversation about unhealthy social behaviors along with an emphasis on safety and community-building at orientation. This inclusion sends a direct message about what will and will not be tolerated in our community.

With a new education program, a greater emphasis on safety and a fresh orientation schedule, we believe that this orientation will create the greatest opportunity for students to have the resources and training necessary to reach their fullest potential as students and members of our campus community.

Correction: Erin Burrows was previously listed as a UHS employee.