Lieberman: Shortening Wildcat Welcome would support student wellbeing

Matt Lieberman, Columnist

lieberman-01After eight exhausting days of Wildcat Welcome, I had trouble getting up in the morning for my first 9 a.m. class. Even when I arrived, excited to begin, I was too tired to take it all in. The fellow freshmen next to me in lecture looked drained too. Wildcat Welcome was a blur of True Northwestern Dialogues, PA lunches and meeting new people, but left me with little time to unwind. While the week or so of orientation is full of exciting programming and experiences, the administration would do well to shorten the length of Wildcat Welcome or provide more leisure time for new students.

Although students experience many forms of growth, academic coursework is the backbone of learning in college. By sending students into the first week sleep-deprived, Wildcat Welcome denies professors and students the best opportunity to learn from each other. Although the dreaded “Freshman 15” is often overblown, after being drained from long days of programming students may lack the energy to exercise, leading them to continue similar sedentary habits in the future and making it more likely that they face weight gain. To set up students for optimal success throughout their first week and beyond, getting enough sleep and exercise is vital. We don’t do that when PA events, programming and academic advising keep the Wildcat Welcome schedule so tightly packed.

It is no secret that on a college campus, especially during the first week, alcohol use is everywhere. Although the eye-opening TND programming teaches students about the effects of alcohol abuse, Wildcat Welcome can take a more tangible route to improve students’ decision making. We should be learning how to balance going out and fulfilling responsibilities. Coming into NU, I knew that it was a work-hard, play-hard environment. But Wildcat Welcome made it seem like running on empty, whether at Deering or the Deuce, was the norm. It doesn’t have to be.

Although many incoming freshman and transfers spend the week leading up to their arrival on campus relaxing in preparation for Wildcat Welcome, others participated in pre-orientation programs. After six days of engaged community service on the Freshman Urban Program (FUP) or eight days of camping in northern Minnesota on Project Wildcat (PWild), many students need a well-deserved break.

Altering the format of Wildcat Welcome would support success and health of incoming students. As a first option, the University could hold Wildcat Welcome for the same eight-day period, but cut down on required programming, giving students the chance to get on track to improved physical and mental health. Building in more time to spend on our own or with new friends could provide a much-needed break from required activities. This first month at college required me to learn how to manage free time, a process made more difficult when orientation filled so much of my day.

Wildcat Welcome could also feature a similar schedule with a shortened length. NU’s in-state rival, the University of Illinois, runs an orientation program lasting just three days, acclimating students to campus without overtiring them before classes begin. A jam-packed version of Wildcat Welcome over the course of just a few days might be equally tiring for students, but is more likely to get new students acclimated to a rigorous college schedule. A shorter schedule could accomplish the goals of orienting students and bonding with friends while still preparing them for the first week of classes.

The problem with Wildcat Welcome’s packed schedule became especially clear when normally engaged students dozed off during the inspiring speeches at convocation. Although Wildcat Welcome certainly provides unparalleled learning experiences and an extraordinary introduction to life at NU, altering the schedule would showcase the University’s commitment to student health and better prepare new students to join the Wildcat community.

Matt Lieberman is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.