Cooper: Responding to critiques of Wildcat Welcome as a Peer Adviser

Danny Cooper, Assistant Opinion Editor

I served as a Peer Adviser this year, which means you can make a few assumptions about me right off the bat.

Yes, I walk around everywhere with that neon backpack from Uncle Dan’s. Yes, I can and will do the New Student Dance at a moment’s notice. And yes, I love Wildcat Welcome so much I decided to go through it twice (once as a participant, last year as a PA) and hope to do it again.

Perhaps that is why I felt Matt Lieberman’s recent column in the Daily missed the point. I don’t disagree with his point that the days are exhausting, particularly as a PA. But criticizing the schedule of Wildcat Welcome ignores orientation’s very purpose of filling new students’ days with bonding and programming. The busy days are purposeful, alleviating first-week homesickness and instilling a sense of community.

The notion that new students are left too tired to function at the beginning of fall quarter not only isn’t entirely true, it ignores the fact that, without orientation, these students would enter classes without an introduction to all the opportunities Northwestern provides. And if managing free time is hard during Wildcat Welcome, it’s only going to get more difficult from there.

Further, Lieberman wrote that students who do pre-orientation programs such as Freshman Urban Program or P-Wild need a “well-deserved break.” I understand that those programs are tiring; I did Catalyst and had a wonderful, exhausting time. But no one forces students to participate in these programs, and we shouldn’t change the university-wide orientation program just to accommodate the students who are able to access these rewarding (but expensive) trips.

Surely there are things I would change about Wildcat Welcome. Some of the programming is unnecessary, and certain TNDs could be formatted and executed better. Wildcat Welcome attempts to address alcohol and drug use at Northwestern in a realistic way, though it admittedly doesn’t always hit home for all students. Lieberman suggested Wildcat Welcome should create more space for students to learn how to balance going out and completing responsibilities, saying NU students don’t have to be “running on empty.” Well, I agree. NU students don’t have to be running on empty: Students shouldn’t be going out every night during Wildcat Welcome.

More than anything, I think Lieberman misunderstood the primary goal of Wildcat Welcome: to show every new student what I see as our core values as an NU community. Though TNDs can be draining and the conversations are often difficult, they are a necessary part of exposing first-year students and transfers to the type of school NU aspires to be: one in which dialogues and understanding are crucial. Cutting these programs for the sake of time misses the point.

He suggested shortening Wildcat Welcome to three days long like the orientation program at the University of Illinois, but that plan, too, is off base. Stuffing TNDs, PA group bonding and other activities that define Wildcat Welcome into three days would make the experience far less impactful.

I’ve seen Wildcat Welcome from both sides. Last year, I witnessed how hard PAs work to make it a special experience. It is tiring, there is no question, but it’s a necessary length in order to provide an introduction to what makes the NU community unique. The ultimate goal of Wildcat Welcome is to cement and improve community, though participants might not be able to see it at the time.

Danny Cooper is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, 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.