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Univ. should do more to integrate midyear class

By Kevin Healey

Section: Opinions

January 19, 2015

As we stream back to Brandeis this winter, happy with memories of home, life is breathed back into our lovely campus. For almost a month now, Brandeis students have been enjoying family meals, fun vacations or simply the relaxation of having nothing to prepare for or worry about. Well, most of us. The beginning of second semester brings with it not just a new set of classes but fresh faces as well, as the midyear class of 2018 settles into their new rooms, new friendships and new life as college students. The shock of any radical lifestyle change, from marriage to divorce to death, can often be stressful, and the beginning of college is no exception. For too many midyears, however, it seems the transition can be unusually challenging.

Students beginning college face many anxieties and fears, from succeeding in classes to paying back their student loans. These fears are universal and not easily remedied by the university. The main source of anxiety for most students, however, is social. High school isn’t exactly known for properly preparing students for new social situations. Especially in the transition to college, when most students say goodbye to most of their longtime friends and find themselves alone, social anxiety can be overwhelming. Not every student enjoyed Orientation as much as I did, but the main reason for placing students into days of social activities is to force the building of friend groups and social relationships between new students. Its hectic schedule and endless activities prevent students from sitting in their rooms alone and lets them meet new people who are just as uncomfortable as they are.

Midyear Orientation helps students adapt to college life as well, but it’s far less effective than fall Orientation. For one thing, there are far fewer midyears than first-year students admitted for the fall, which limits midyears’ to make acquaintances. The majority of their class has already had one semester of college, and for a new student unsure of whether or not they fit in and anxious about college life, knowing that you’re behind only heightens those fears. Most of your peers already have, friends, groups and connections but you are just starting out.

By doing nothing to bridge this divide and make midyears feel more connected to our community, we do them a massive disservice. College becomes much more difficult without a solid support system, and being cut off socially from the majority of your class makes building that system harder. This isn’t to say that midyears can’t or don’t befriend other students, just that the deck is stacked against them. We should be providing the support every Brandeis student needs to thrive, not just those who happened to start in the fall.

So what do we do? Beyond simply advising our other first-year students to appreciate midyears and beyond the unfortunately few events we currently sponsor to help our midyears make connections, there is so much more we can do to help our students succeed. One of the largest fears faced by midyears is going into strange residence halls to spend time with new friends—when everyone in the hall has been there for months, it’s pretty easy to feel intimidated. If we were to hold events in the first-year residence halls, ranging from barbeques to parties to game nights, students would be much more likely to want to participate. In addition, holding these events in either Massell or North will make more first-years attend and allow midyears to truly feel welcome.

There is nothing harder than feeling left out, even if that feeling is solely in our heads and not in reality. Here at Brandeis, I’ve been lucky enough to find a community that is truly welcoming and accepting of all people. But when that community fails to make every effort to include all of its members, we need to take notice. It wouldn’t be hard to include midyear students more in our events and celebrations, but it’s a step we all need to take.

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