On Aug. 21, the largest class of first years in Kenyon history arrived for orientation. Throughout orientation, 513 first years and transfer students were able to connect with their classmates and learn the ropes of the school, but some of the Orientation Leaders (OLs) did not have the same positive experience, due to long hours, unclear expectations, poor communication and COVID-19 transmission.
As is customary, OLs arrive early to campus to help lead a group of first years through the orientation process — a four-day-long introduction to Kenyon. The whole incoming class meets together for information sessions and then breaks into smaller “OL groups” — of two leaders and a group of first years — for other activities. OLs help their groups bond, but also help students register for classes and complete other necessary tasks such as language placement exams.
To accommodate the larger class size and to meet COVID-19 protocols, Director of First-Year Experience Don Miller said on-campus events had to be modified from years past. These changes included splitting up some all-class events, encouraging OLs to meet with their groups outside and encouraging people to wear masks indoors.
Though orientation is intended to be a fun, community-bonding experience to help integrate first years into life at Kenyon, orientation this year was not as gratifying, according to OL Jenny Jantzen ’23. Jantzen said that the time commitment expectations for OLs were consistently unclear and communication from the Office of First year Engagement was lacking.
“It’s been kind of split two ways. On the one hand, I really enjoyed working with my students. It felt really validating and exciting to be able to give them answers to [their] questions,” Jantzen said. “But on the other side of things, I feel like the organizational aspect for the OLs specifically wasn’t going so great behind the scenes.”
There have been complaints about the OL program since its rollout in 2017. At the time, students raised concerns about the size of OL groups and the limitations on other activities OLs could be involved in due to scheduling conflicts. More recently, some OLs have suggested that it should be a paid position.
“I also think it is really important to provide monetary compensation to the OLs,” Jantzen said. “They’re doing a lot more work than people think they are and everyone I’ve talked to so far is very shocked that [OLs are] not compensated.”
Jantzen also suggested that making it a paid job could improve the program more broadly, as OLs would understand that the position requires the commitment of a job.
One first year, Margo Moceyunas ’25, had her orientation experience interrupted by this year’s internal disorganization.
“When my orientation first started out, it felt like my leaders weren’t super invested in what was happening. And it later became clear why: because of the drama surrounding the advisors for the orientation program,” she said.
Moceyunas’ experience was also impacted by COVID-19, when one of her OLs got sick.
“The first or second day, one of my orientation leaders was gone and [they were] replaced by [someone else],” Moceyunas said. “We weren’t given a reason why, but we heard that it was COVID.”
Moceyunas said she was most frustrated by the lack of clarity from the College and was confused as to whether or not she should have been wearing a mask outdoors. Though she was relieved to have “strong guidance” from peers, she received no word of what to do from College sources. “If I had known that [my OLs] had COVID for sure, then I probably would have worn my mask everywhere, but no one was wearing masks and no one told us the information,” she said.
Given this year’s issues, Miller said that the Office of First-Year Experience is already working on improvements to the program for next year.
“We will be distributing several assessments developed in collaboration with and distributed by the Kenyon Office of Institutional Research,” he said. “We will utilize these assessments to develop strategies to address growth areas of the program, and to build on areas of strength in the program.”
Despite the difficulties, both Moceyunos and Jantzen agreed that orientation was a positive experience.
“I was just excited to kind of share this campus with them in a meaningful way. I think that was really effective,” Jantzen reflected.
Moceyunos said that her classmates made the process better. “My experience was still good because of the other freshmen in the group,” she said.