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Opinion: StartStronger

Side door entrance to Kresge Auditorium, trees and vines on the bricks
Photo by Elinor Shelp-Peck

StartStrong Pre-Orientation is a day for the incoming class to learn more about Meredith as well as themselves. Students take their Clifton Strengths Assessment and learn their Five Strengths they will use throughout their time on campus and beyond. StartStrong also has sessions for students to learn more about campus life and involvement as well as the technology they will use on campus. While StartStrong has a lot of strengths and is important for students to attend, there are significant problems that Meredith needs to address.

My suggestions not only come from a former participant’s perspective but also a student leader and employee. This year, I was invited to lead a presentation about Meredith traditions and involvement as a Service Scholar. Additionally, as a student worker for the Technology Services, I led another session about technology on campus.

All first year students are required to attend StartStrong with rare exceptions. While there are a lot of students that live locally, there are still students who live hours away from campus. It is extremely unhealthy for students to be up so early to be able to attend a required 7-hour session. Out-of-state students have to rent a hotel room and arrange transportation such as Ubers at their own expense. In a session that I was leading, a student stated that they had been up since three in the morning to be able to make it to StartStrong.

StartStrong lasts the majority of the work day with check-in starting at 8:45 a.m. and the last activity ending at 3:00 p.m. This is not considering the students who will take additional placement testing or attend other on-campus meetings after the event is over. I was fortunate that I lived close to campus and that my family picked me up so I wouldn’t have to drive. I could not imagine having to drive hours back home after such an exhausting and overwhelming day.

When registering for StartStrong, students fill out a form with their top three major choices and general education class preferences. When they get to pre-orientation, they meet with an adviser to register for classes. The adviser that registered me for classes was a staff member who I only interacted with at StartStrong. Because my adviser registered me for classes, I didn’t learn how to work the Self Service website and I missed my spring registration period. Additionally, I was not aware of important information like class times, professors, the number of general education and major classes I was in or how many credit hours I had. I ended up taking 17 credit hours with most of them being general education classes.

While there are drop/add sessions with assigned faculty advisers at Orientation, these sessions have faults too. Some faculty are not familiar with technology which makes it difficult to fix schedules. Even if freshmen wanted to drop or add a class, they may not know how because their adviser signed them up. My entire academic career at Meredith has been trying to rebuild my grade point average from my very first semester.

During my first semester, I quickly realized that I was not alone. In one of my general education classes, I learned that all but one of my classmates were signed up for 17-18 credit hours and were extremely overwhelmed trying to adjust to our new environment. We were also unaware of how to fix our schedules or register for classes for the following semester. Technology Services held a session in 2020 that taught first year students how to register for classes which was extremely helpful and well attended. However, it would be better for students to learn how to register, drop and add classes at StartStrong instead of at a separate event provided by a different department.

Accessibility for students with disabilities is extremely limited. Some videos that are presented to students, such as the Big/Little program video, did not have closed captioning. Additionally, some presentations were given orally. The slides didn’t have all of the information that was shared orally which puts those with hearing impairments at a disadvantage. Some activities took place at the bottom of Kresge Auditorium which requires all students to walk down a large number of stairs. Unless the presenter knows how to work the Kresge Auditorium elevator, the space is inaccessible.

At StartStrong, first year students are assigned to groups that are led by Student Advisers. These Student Advisers are their first point of contact and guide them throughout campus from one session to another. Student Advisers are also supposed to interact with their group and make sure that everyone feels included and welcomed. When I was a first year and attended StartStrong, my Student Adviser barely talked to me or others who were introverted. This past Saturday’s session was no different. Instead of interacting with students who didn’t have anyone to talk to during discussions, all but two gathered at the front of the room and talked amongst themselves.

StartStrong is an important event that students can benefit from attending. First year students get a glimpse of campus life and learn more about the resources that are available on campus. Being that students are required to attend this event, staff and Student Advisers who lead StartStrong need to stop condoning these practices by praising difficulties of students.

Meredith needs to offer overnight housing for students who live far from campus. Not only will this keep students from being up late and incurring additional costs, but they could also socialize with others who live far away. Students would be able to go to StartStrong well-rested without worrying about their safety when they travel home.

In regards to accessibility, while it is understandable that Meredith wants participants to move around throughout the day, Jones Auditorium is the most accessible building to host pre-orientation activities. Additionally, it would be helpful for students to be given an itinerary with locations and schedules prior to StartStrong. This would allow students to notify administrators through more confidential outlets such as emails about needed accommodations in those spaces.

By Charlie Hatch, Contributing Writer


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