Monday, September 16, 2013

The Freshman Experience

Today's post was written by Rachel Sanders, a senior history major who works in the Special Collections and University Archives.  Rachel is also chair of the Student Libraries' Advisory Council and works with the Libraries' Digital Projects on the grant "Preserving Local History: A Field-Based Digitization Pilot Project."
Being a freshman in college is not an easy thing – and it never has been! Here in the UNCG University Archives, we have information about how freshmen were welcomed and oriented to campus dating back as early as 1896. Back then, things were quite different from today in a lot of ways – including how freshmen were treated.

Student life in the 1890s
In 1896, the welcome program was spread out over three consecutive days at the beginning of October. The “Organization Exercises,” as they were then called, were used to test students’ abilities in English, Arithmetic, Languages, and Drawing. Other subjects tested included Botany, Geography, and Physiology. The same was true for the 1897 program. It’s clear from reading documents from this era that the girls who attended the college were not given much independence or choice at all with regard to their education and orientation. The events all appear to be quite structured and uniform - everyone was together at all times during these sessions.

1918 College Night Reception program
Around 1918, things started to change. During that year’s orientation, there was a college night reception in which the student body president and the campus Y.W.C.A. president spoke and the girls sang the college song. There were also presentations by each class (freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior) and presentations by each literary society on campus (Dikean, Cornelian, and Adelphian). Groups like the Athletic Association, the Dramatic Club, and the Farmerettes came to the reception to promote their groups and to demonstrate the skills that girls could hope to improve if they joined those groups. On this night there was also a presentation by the College Magazine and the local Red Cross chapter.

By 1929, things were more personal and the girls were trusted with more responsibilities – supervision and structure were relaxed a little, and the 1929 freshman program had stretched out to a weeklong event. As the campus grew, girls in orientation sessions were split into many different groups and given tours of the library, the infirmary, and other campus buildings. They also had group pictures taken – many of which can be seen in the photograph collections here at University Archives. Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, this format for welcoming students was retained, and eventually these orientations began to include auditions for ensembles and groups around campus.

Student reception, ca. 1950s
Since the mid-twentieth century, things have gone through even more radical changes. In 1989, the Office of Academic Advising and Support Services published a “Freshman Survival Guide” to help new students find all of the new resources that were available on campus – this guide also gave students information about what those offices could do for the students (now men and women were on campus). Today things are similar, but with a modern twist. As the student population at UNCG has increased, so have initiatives to welcome and acquaint students with the massive amounts of programs and resources available to them. Now we have an entire program in the summer called SOAR (Spartan Orientation, Advising, and Registration), and a program known as “Your First Year,” which welcomes new students to campus with tours, parties, exhibitions, and other special events. You can find more information about this program here:

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