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Demanding New Student Week schedules largely ignore student well-being

I was, in short, so fed up with Carleton’s New Student Week (NSW) my freshman year (last year, in 2018) that, at its conclusion, I changed my Instagram handle to @carletoncollege.newstudentweek. (The joke is that there wasn’t an official N.S.W. Instagram account at the time.)

Though the official Carleton account DM’d me 11 months later asking me to stop the identity theft, the username was less playful mockery and kind of my way of (at least I hoped) giving what was more or less the finger to the overwhelming smoke-and-mirrors process that was NSW (But it’s also just an Instagram username and I’m probably reading into this too much.)

Although now I’m far(-ish) removed from my NSW experience, I am still (I’d say) pretty justifiably peeved about the whole thing. It was a startlingly quick, endlessly tiring, and almost rash introduction to Carleton. And given it was my—along with approx.imately500 other students’—first exposure to college life, I knew no better. Information sessions, tours, admissions representatives, US News and World Report, nothing talks about first year orientation — which makes sense, probably, with the reasonable expectation that schools ease their students into their M.O. So obviously none of the incoming Carls my year (or other years) had any idea what the marathon-sprint would look like.

Much of the non-stop informational barrage that was NSW didn’t really sit well with my pretty acute anxiety issues — which is probably significantly informing the tone of this piece.

But it was still a serious issue for me (and, I’m sure, for other Carls with similar situations, as well), which then, thinking about it, sort of perpetuated itself as I began to realize I couldn’t quite retain any of the information being thrown my way on account of that anxiety, which really just began to spiral and deteriorate into anxiety’s more subtle, creeping, adverse mental health effects —which even further detracted from my ability to get really anything out of the Week, as much as I truly wished to enjoy it.

Basically, it wasn’t a great introduction and likely shaped the tone of the term to come.

It seems, with all this firehose-esque sensory overload, almost as if the Carleton administration is so caught-up in its self-image of a “model, progressive liberal arts college” that it ignores the wellbeing of its students for the sake of checking as many boxes as efficiently and conveniently as possible. (Also see: a college with an almost billion dollar endowment having neglected dorms, lackluster health resources, weirdly elusive queer/trans resources… etc.).

And, yes, not all Carls experience or live with anxiety and other mental health issues, but the core sentiment is still there, more or less generally. Most people I talked to about it voiced at least a base-level, similar sort of irritation, specifically with the seeming excessiveness of the whole thing.

I’m also, obviously, not an administrative/curricular expert or authority, but from a student’s perspective, and in the midst of debates surrounding how to partition NSW, there seem to be at least minimal ways to take a stab at eliminating student discomfort and working to prevent them from zoning out during the week-long information overload. E.g. spreading events out and scheduling them over the first couple weeks of fall term; in conjunction with the first suggestion, slightly shortening presentations (though, again, not diminishing their importance); perhaps truncating or moving Stevie P. (et al.)’s poorly-timed, seemingly-endless move-in-day-terminal ~4:30–5:30 p.m. introductory speech (maybe diminishing this one’s importance just a little bit).
There are definitely productive ways to improve upon the Week and inform students of as many resources as possible, but making the whole process longer within the same timespan definitely is not one of them.

Carleton’s New Student Week is undoubtedly necessary and important, but the College is doing it in one of the worst ways possible. Learning vital information about college life should be educational and engaging, not a dismal slog through requirements.

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