Orientation overnight stay should be voluntary

The hallways of life do not have resident assistants. This lesson was apparently forgotten when Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies Glen Besterfield and representatives from Student Government agreed that the existing orientation process was insufficient.

Although all of the changes have not yet been determined, the most likely addition to orientation will be a mandatory one-night stay on campus in Beta or Castor Hall. One wonders about the effectiveness of such a policy.

What led to this possibility is well-intended enough. In May 2005, Provost Renu Khator set up the Workgroup on Strengthening Orientation. After looking at how other universities handle orientation, the workgroup made some recommendations.

Many of these recommendations, such as giving students hands-on experiences with the essential Blackboard and OASIS Web sites, will lead to positive outcomes.

SG and Besterfield seem to agree that the prospective changes to the orientation process will provide a more informative and more direct experience for students. The only confusing thing is how spending a night on campus will benefit students attending a school compromised mostly of commuters.

It certainly will not prepare students for “the college experience.” According to U.S. News and World Report, only 13 percent of the students at USF live in college-affiliated housing. Changing orientation to include a mandatory overnight stay will mean incoming students will have to pay for a night in a dorm room. If the statistics are any indication, for 87 percent of students that experience will be totally unnecessary. At USF, the college experience of on-campus living is shared by a minority. It should not be mandatory for the majority to experience a living condition that has nothing to do with how they will actually experience college.

The change might be intended to persuade more students to live on campus by exposing them to a positive experience with on-campus housing. After all, the University of Florida forces its students to stay on campus overnight during orientation. The percentage of students who live on UF’s campus is 22 percent, 9 percent more than at USF, according to U.S. News and World Report. This difference, however, is more logically explained by UF’s surroundings. Gainesville is a small city with far fewer options regarding off-campus housing than in Tampa – a simple search on Apartmentguide.com will illustrate this. Florida State University, surrounded by the large and metropolitan Tallahassee, understands this fact better than the SG and undergraduate studies department. FSU does not require a costly and inconvenient overnight stay in their on-campus housing during orientation but offers it as an option.

Another problem with the idea concerns older students, who enter USF undergraduate programs after their lives have already been established to a great degree. Many undergraduates have spouses, children, homes and lives to attend to. Forcing adult students to spend a night in a dorm room is simply unthinkable. Even if waivers were available for such students, forms would have to be filled out to acquire them. The last thing any university needs is more forms. “The cost will be changing,” Besterfield said in Friday’s Oracle. “We have not arrived at a cost yet, but it will be significantly more.”

Perhaps the increase would be less significant if a mandatory overnight stay – which costs money, is inconvenient, has no relevance to most incoming USF students and will not convince more students to live on campus – is done away with. If a University’s purpose is to teach maturity as well as knowledge, making choices for students is not the way to go about it.

College is intended not only to stamp out ignorance, but also to prepare students for life. Being as independent and responsible as the ideal college experience dictates is intended to produce personal growth, maturity and knowledge. Handing in papers and being responsible for their content is akin to what many graduates will experience when working for a business or satisfying the customers of enterprises they create. The meritocracy one experiences in the classroom is reflective of the one existing in the commerce of this nation. It does the students of the University a great disservice to be parented and forced to spend a night on campus merely because USF wants to make it feel like the ideal living condition.

USF students are adults and a major part of adulthood is deciding what is ideal for oneself instead of leaving that decision to others. The proposed overnight stay should be voluntary, as it is at FSU. If it is not, the University will be besmirching one of the most important lessons it should be teaching its students: The roof over students’ heads should be determined not by the whims of the collective, but by the individual, who knows what’s best.

Jordan Capobianco is a senior majoring in English literature.

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