UCD needs to make better first impressions

Image Credit: University Observer

Upon examining how UCD introduces its new blood to the campus, Rob Fitzpatrick has come to the conclusion that orientation is simply not fit for purpose.

For many freshers, orientation is one of the most exciting but stressful times in their college careers. Upon arrival, unsuspecting students are corralled into groups and shunted from building to building. From the Newman building to the Fitzgerald Chamber to Lake number 4, students are left with the lasting impression that UCD is very big, and most importantly, bigger than Trinity. This tour gives all incoming freshers their first chance to rock their new outfits, spot the Ag students, and ask everybody what they got in their Leaving Cert. Don’t worry, it is as scary as it sounds, but you will quickly develop a thick skin amidst the thousands of unsmiling faces.

Upon concluding the tour, freshers are handed a traditional scarf in the UCD colours. When draped over the shoulders it can serve to accentuate one's best features. The scarf serves as a talking point, marking you out as a true Fenian, but also a citizen of your new nation, University College Dublin.

During the tour and in the moments following, students have their first opportunity to meet their peers and break the ice. For freshers new to the Dublin scene, this can be an awkward experience. It can be hard to establish common ground when everybody already seems to know each other, and the fear of judgement in this new and scary place can be immense. Even for Dubliners, meeting so many new people after six years spent in the Irish education system, it can be difficult to branch out.

It can be hard to establish common ground when everybody already seems to know each other, and the fear of judgement in this new and scary place can be immense

A better alternative could be societies, clubs and student newspapers. Over these initial weeks, student run clubs and societies do Trojan work, and fill the void left by college administration in welcoming freshers into the fold. In getting stuck in and doing a non-academic activity like sports, debating or rock and roll, students can lose their self consciousness and meet like minded people. The connections formed here are more organic and long lasting than those formed when listening to a tired sabbatical officer explaining the workings of the Student’s Union. 

Many get left behind when their first introduction to college is an administrative one. They arrive at college saddled with high rent and worried that they haven’t managed to log into their SisWeb account, all before the year has even begun. That’s not to mention the crippling anxiety and other mental health issues that many young people deal with on a daily basis. These young intrepids deserve better from the University.

If you manage to make a friend you may never meet them again.

Another issue is the immense amount of different activities that are open to students with little to no guidance. Despite the best attempts of all those involved, attempting to find and commit to a new community in college can be really difficult. The campus geography doesn’t help, as I’ve alluded to, it’s not only large but vast. If you manage to make a friend you may never meet them again. 

Happily, societies, clubs and other student organisations provide an answer. With the people you meet there likely to show up at the same place the next week, and the societies themselves desperate for you to re attend.

The point is, that having the most boring and daunting student experience right at the start of college harms your expectations and your confidence. A preferable introduction would be more holistic, less formal and actively engaging.

There is a huge problem with student dropouts in UCD and part of that is the loneliness experienced in the first few weeks. No matter your course, if you have a reason to go to college, and an incentive to attend, you will. That’s why this first introduction is important and why the only way to make that first impression of UCD good, is by having the great parts shown.