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The Carletonian

Lapse in judgment by canceling Pre-Frosh Trips

<s a freshman, I went on a Pre-Frosh Trip. It made such an impact on my transition to Carleton that the next year I applied and lead a Pre-Frosh backpacking trip, eager to give the class of 2010 the kind of experience that I had had the year before. The next year, I had the great fortune to be able to coordinate all of the backpacking trips; it was a great summer not just for myself, but because I was able to ensure that 64 freshmen would have that experience that I know is so, so valuable to the Carleton first-year experience.

Now, a full term after the most recent Pre-Frosh Trips returned from the wilderness or from doing service in the Twin Cities, I learned last week that the college is canceling the Pre-Frosh Trip program altogether – the Pre-Frosh Trip program that I so enjoyed as a first-year, and enjoyed just as much as a leader the following year. They’re still going to offer some alternatives, they say, such as a series of trips throughout the year for first-year students to go on, but the idea of an orientation trip that takes place before New Student Week has been eliminated. To cancel the Pre-Frosh Trips, which takes nearly a quarter of the incoming class on trips – either backpacking, canoeing, or service in the Twin Cities – the college must have had a pretty good reason, right? Here’s what they’re saying: first, I’ve heard that the college got lots of calls from parents and alumni, angry about the fact that, for whatever reason, their son or daughter wasn’t able to go on a Pre-Frosh Trip, even though they wanted to. This is one of the college’s claims: that the trips are too exclusive, and that not enough students get to go. Here’s why that might be: in the past, the Pre-Frosh Trip program has had limited resources; for the backpacking and canoeing trips, there are 8 and 10 groups, respectively; each group has 6 first-year students and 2 upper-class leaders. In terms of busses, gear, and campsites, 8 backpacking groups and 10 canoeing groups have worked out well in the past. And though there invariably has been a waitlist in the past, it’s hard to gauge how many applications Campus Activities will receive in any given year. This past year, there was a waitlist of about 40 first-years. The year before, about 20. But I guess I’m getting a step ahead of myself – you’re probably wondering – how do first-years get chosen to go on trips in the first place? Well, it’s all completely random. Well, not completely. As long as the student gets his or her application in by the deadline, then he or she has an equal chance to go on a trip. After the deadline, the coordinator runs a lottery, and fills out the first-years in the trip of their choice. Students that apply after the deadline automatically get placed onto the waitlist. When a student who was selected by the lottery has to withdraw, for whatever reason, a student on the waitlist takes his or her place. Sometimes many students drop out. Sometimes hardly any do, as was the case in the past summer. So, yes, it’s true – not all incoming students who want to go on a Pre-Frosh Trip get to. And it’s absolutely a valid point, I agree. Moreover, the college has argued that having first-year students move in on two separate occasions – first for the Pre-Frosh Trips and then for New Student Week – is not only problematic for Carleton faculty, but that not all parents of first-years are able to gather together, thus limiting a “sense of community” that is apparently important to each class. Those are valid points, definitely. But are they enough to justify eliminating the entire Pre-Frosh Trip program? Hardly.

From what I’ve heard, the college had the option to change the Trips to a format where all students who wanted to go on a trip could, or even where Pre-Frosh Trips were a mandatory part of the Carleton first-year experience.

But, the college wasn’t willing to give the Pre-Frosh Trips the level of commitment they need, and so they decided that they should simply get rid of them, and opt instead for a series of trips that takes place after New Student Week. But here’s what gets me very angry: in making this decision, the college didn’t consult a single student. Not you, not me, not anybody. The college says, though, they the decision was made with student input, even though it was indirect input from freshmen orientation and the Pre-Frosh Trips. Regardless, this was still a completely administrative decision, and in ignoring that student-administration relationship that has made this college so successful, it was a serious lapse in judgment. So what is the college losing by this? They’re losing an invaluable experience for incoming first-years to meet not only other students in their class before New Student Week, but also upper-class, that ultimately creates a supportive, community network of peers; the college is losing a program which helps ease the transition of the first-years into Carleton, I would argue, more than New Student Week; they’re also losing a program that helps build self-confidence and self-esteem in the first-year student.

Simply put, the college is losing an opportunity for the first-years to really shake off any self-doubts they have about themselves or about Carleton – the trips are geared towards making first-year students comfortable with themselves as they start out life in a completely new, and at times intimidating environment, and to put themselves at ease with new people and this new place. The college believes that they can maintain the benefits of the Pre-Frosh Trip even after moving the trips ahead a few weeks, but I strongly, vehemently disagree. The experience of the Pre-Frosh Trips can not be duplicated or replicated.

The bottom line, then, is that the college believes that the costs of the Pre-Frosh Trips outweigh the benefits. But the fact remains that there ARE benefits. And they are extraordinary and invaluable. And in simply eliminating them, and not working out a solution so that all first-years have the opportunity to go on a trip, and in not consulting with students who have been a part of the program in the past, the college has made an incredible error.

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