Freshman, transfer student orientation altered to address COVID concerns

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On Friday, Aug. 14, incoming freshmen and transfer students will start arriving on campus to settle into their new rooms and prepare for orientation week. But with SmartStart cancelled this summer and new precautions set for the semester, the yearly program will look different from previous years.

Orientation will start on Monday, Aug. 17, and will run until Thursday for most students and Friday for international students. There will be nine different sessions, and students, divided into nine groups, will attend three sessions per day in a rotation cycle. On Thursday, students will meet with their Southern Connections class to participate in community service.

According to First Year Experience Coordinator Renita Moore, this is the first time all incoming freshmen and new transfer students are attending orientation together. Usually, due to SmartStart, orientation week is mostly aimed for those who did not attend a summer class. Now, Moore said, orientation coordinators are expecting about 600 new students to attend the program.

“[This year] it’s so different because they’re all going to be together, and we’re spreading out the sessions over four days,” Moore said.

These changes will also give students a better chance to meet with their Southern Connections student mentors.

“So, the mentors will be in charge of getting the freshmen from place to place and acclimating them,” Moore said. “I’m really excited about that because normally my mentors don’t get to meet all of their students since the SmartStart kids have already attended classes … Now they’re going to be able to develop some really good bonds.”

The sessions will include the usual topics, such as Title IX, academic health and counseling. Students also will hear lectures about COVID-19 and their responsibility for protecting themselves and others. Throughout the whole week, students will be required to complete a daily health assessment, social distance and wear masks at all times.

In addition, the yearly welcome party—a one evening event for all freshmen and new transfer students—will be replaced with other evening activities stretched throughout the week. These activities include a “Block Party” hosted by the Student Association (SA), an open gym night hosted by the Hulsey Wellness Center and an event called “Music in the Park” which will be planned by current Southern students as well as some alumni.

In-coming communication freshman Cassidy Connolly said that though she knows things will be different due to COVID-19, she looks forward to starting her time at Southern.

“It’s definitely a little bittersweet now with COVID-19,” Connolly said. “But it’s nice that the campus is open so we can still fellowship together…. [During orientation] I’m hoping to meet a few new people and get a feel for the atmosphere of the university.”

Moore, who has been planning the orientation for months now, is also excited to see students fill the campus again.

“I can’t wait to have students back,” Moore said. “I think I will be more cognizant of the fact that, ‘You know, to make this campus run, we need students.’ I mean, the energy and the lifeline of our students is so important that it has just not been the same without them.”

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