Dry Orientation Thwarted by Hurricane

For this year’s orientation, which took place last week, President Joseph Urgo encouraged everyone arriving early to campus to take a substance-free pledge.  Though the pledge was met by mostly positive responses from those participating in orientation activities, the presence of Hurricane Irene disrupted orientation activities and the ability of students and faculty to assess if “dry orientation” was a success here at St. Mary’s.

Urgo first introduced the idea of a substance-free orientation at a Student Government Association (SGA) meeting in October of last fall. Urgo had similar experiences with dry orientation at his undergraduate institution of Haverford College and also at Hamilton College, where he previously served as the chief academic officer.  At Haverford, the practice of dry orientation is a long-standing tradition. Urgo said that the practice there is “so ingrained that having a beer is considered ‘uncool.’”

The purpose of a dry orientation is to improve the initial experiences of first-year students at St. Mary’s. In his email to all returning students before the start of this year’s orientation, Urgo said, “It seems to me that when anyone enters a new environment, meeting people without the filter of being drunk or high is more likely to create genuine relationships. While new friendships are being formed, we should acknowledge the significance of this transition by treating it as serious business, not play.”

Orientation leaders and first-year students alike showed a general sense of support for the sobriety pledge.  Orientation Coordinator Olusola Ogundele, ’10, hoped that early returning upper-class students would be able to show their support for the pledge by “promoting [sobriety] and leading by example.”  She also agreed with Urgo’s reasoning, explaining the difference between a “fast drunk friend and a super sober friend.”

Orientation leader and junior Dirk Rousseau said, “meeting people in your normal state is a really important thing.”  He also said that “you still have bad impressions of people you meet drunk” long after the fact.

First-year student Jessie Nolasco showed her support for dry orientation by explaining that it is a good way to “keep campus safe.”  Emma Taylor, also a first-year, said that dry orientation is “a good idea, but next weekend will be especially crazy.”

When asked about the possibility of dry orientation simply increasing the chance of binge drinking, partying, and alcohol-related hospitalizations next week, Urgo said that students will “spend the first week getting to know each other.” When first meeting someone, it is difficult to know when to tell them that they have had enough to drink.  But, Urgo says, “You can help your friends better after a week.”

Laura Bayless, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, said, “It is hard to predict [the success of substance-free orientation] with the hurricane. But, the hope was that everyone would rise to the occasion and understand why we’re doing it.”  She also discussed how early returning athletes with three-a-day practices are under a sobriety pledge as well.  She said that she hoped these athletes would “help lead the way for their college friends not under those same restrictions.” Because of the hurricane, most returning upper-class students were not able to return to campus until Monday, after orientation was already over.  Senior orientation leader Andy VanDeusen said, “It won’t hurt that the returning students are coming late.”  This way, there were fewer of-age students on campus, students who are more likely to host parties with alcohol.

Even though it was difficult to assess the success of dry orientation this year, Bayless said that she is “very hopeful that we will get to a place where it is considered uncouth to have big parties during orientation.”

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