At the start of every college semester, hundreds of new students are introduced to the William & Mary through the orientation process.
The formative weeks of a new student’s orientation are handled through the office of First Year Experience through their campus-hired student orientation staff. The orientation aides and orientation area directors — over 200 chanting, enthusiastic students who make up this staff — serve as the first example of the face of a well-adjusted student at the university.
But those orientation aides are not a fair representation of the campus population and demographics, statistics show.
Among the fall 2018 group of orientation aides, members of Fraternity and Sorority Life and white students were both examples of populations which are represented at disproportionately high rates compared to the general campus population.
Fraternity and Sorority Life includes the Interfraternity Council, Multicultural Greek Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council and Panhellenic Council.
Representation of factors like gender identity, sexual orientation, economic class, hobbies and race all impact a student’s experience on campus. Among orientation area directors — students who coordinate the recruitment, application, interviewing and selection processes of orientation aides — the role played by diverse representation is not ignored.
“I THINK THAT THE OBVIOUS REASON [REPRESENTATION IS IMPORTANT] IS IT’S A LOT EASIER IF YOU SEE SOMEONE WHO LOOKS LIKE YOU, ESPECIALLY IF YOU UNCOMFORTABLE ADJUSTING TO COLLEGE,” orientation area director SIKANDER ZAKRIYA ’19 SAID. “I’LL USE MYSELF AS AN EXAMPLE — AS THE SON OF IMMIGRANTS, IT’S HARD IF YOU ONLY HAVE A STAFF OF WHITE KIDS.”
“I think that the obvious reason [representation is important] is it’s a lot easier if you see someone who looks like you, especially if you uncomfortable adjusting to college,” orientation area director Sikander Zakriya ’19 said. “I’ll use myself as an example — as the son of immigrants, it’s hard if you only have a staff of white kids.”
This concern about representation is something the FYE staff is conscious of as well.
“So many students are concerned about, ‘If I’m going to fit in,’” Director of the Office of First Year Experience Lauren Garrett ’02 said. “‘Am I going to have to be the trail blazer, again?’”
In 2014, a Flat Hat report showed a disproportionate number of members of Fraternity and Sorority Life represented in the Orientation Staff. That year, approximately 75 percent of students chosen to serve as orientation aides were also members of social fraternities or sororities at the College. At the time, this was disproportionate as only 27-30 percent of the larger student body were members of Fraternity and Sorority Life life in 2014.
Currently, only 28 percent of the student body are members of Fraternity and Sorority Life, and 54 percent of the orientation aides offers for fall 2018 were made to members of Fraternity and Sorority Life. The perception of orientation aides as predominately fraternity or sorority members persists throughout the campus community. Henry Blackburn ’20, who has been involved in FYE as an orientation aide for the last two years, said his first impressions of the program aligned with this perception.
“Until this year, my conception of FYE was [that it’s a] cool student organization, but it’s a Greek haven,” Blackburn said. “Until this year, when I saw a huge difference in the entire representation of it.”
This might be due to the fact that, while Fraternity and Sorority Life members are still overrepresented in relation to the broader campus population, they represent a smaller proportion than they did in 2014. Data provided by the Office of First Year Experience that uses information from Banner show shifts in the demographics of students who applied and were offered positions as orientation aides compared to previous years.
Forty-eight percent of applicants out of a pool of 572 candidates in 2018 were current members of Fraternity and Sorority Life. Fifty-four percent of extended offers were made to members of Fraternity and Sorority Life organizations while 46 percent of students given offers were not current members of Fraternity and Sorority Life out of a pool of 221 offers, not including students who may have declined their offers later. This is a 21 percent decrease since 2014.
Other notable demographics were visible in the candidate and offer data. For example, 70 percent of applicants were legally identified as female and 60 percent of the final 221 offers were given to legally identified as female individuals. The orientation aide application provides no option for self-reporting of gender identity, so non-legally defined gender identities of applicants were not known to the school as part of the orientation aide application.
“The majority of our candidates are female or at least legal sex female,” Garrett said. “There are some larger proportions that you’re going to see naturally that happen in the data. I think sometimes that tends to be personality-driven or interest-driven.”
In regards to race and ethnicity, students of color are underrepresented among orientation aide candidates. From self-reported data on ethnicity, only 5 percent of the candidates self-identified as African American, 11 percent of the applicants self-identified as Asian, five percent of the applicants self-identified as multi race and a majority of 73 percent self-identified as white. Final orientation aide staff offers were mostly given to white applicants, with 74 percent of offers given to self-identified white candidates. In comparison, only 4 percent of final offers were given to self-identified African-American applicants, 10 percent to self-identified Asian candidates and 6 percent to self-identified multi race candidates.
“I don’t think there would be any surprise if I said, you know, the applicant pool looks rather shallow when you look at students of color, when we look at students who perhaps are not in the majority when it comes to gender identification, sexual orientation, sexual identity,” Garrett said. “And those aren’t questions necessarily that come on the application. I think there are some pieces where people see who their orientation aides were, they see their orientation area directors, and make a decision whether this is an activity worthwhile for me to participate in.”
Garrett explained that while it is difficult to represent every single student’s experience on campus, FYE nevertheless aims to represent complex identities.
“How does one person’s voice or story have an entire category or identity or personality covered?” Garrett said. “… Everyone is going to have their own nuance, and that’s what we need.”
FYE staff gave a number of reasons for over and under-representation of certain campus populations among orientation aides. For example, FYE staff cited continuing perceptions of the Orientation staff as predominately white, outgoing and members of the fraternity and sorority community often discourages applicants from applying. In fact, Garrett said almost a thousand students open the application and never finish it.
Garrett said this perception of who orientation aides are can further the marginalization some students already feel. According to Garrett, students who feel “othered” on campus report the perception that they are underrepresented in the orientation aide hiring process.
“I think there is the perception of the orientation aide is often they are ‘cool’ kids,” Garrett said.
The fall 2018 team of orientation area directors endeavored to address representation discrepancies in the body of orientation aides this year by looking to combat negative perceptions and perform outreach to expand who applied to become an orientation aide. The orientation area directors staff visited various campus organizations and student populations to encourage diverse student populations to apply.
“WE MADE IT OUR MISSION TO FIND GROUPS OF PEOPLE ACROSS CAMPUS IN ALL AVENUES WHETHER THAT IS BASED ON RACE, GENDER, AGE, TRANSFER VERSUS NON TRANSFERS, MAKING SURE WE HAVE STUDENT ATHLETES, … MAKING SURE [WE REACH] THOSE UNIQUE POPULATIONS,” orientation area director HANNAH MALOWITZ ’19 SAID. “AND I THINK THAT WE SUCCEEDED TO THE BEST OF OUR ABILITY BASED ON THE APPLICANTS THAT APPLIED.”
“We made it our mission to find groups of people across campus in all avenues whether that is based on race, gender, age, transfer versus non transfers, making sure we have student athletes, … making sure [we reach] those unique populations,” orientation area director Hannah Malowitz ’19 said. “And I think that we succeeded to the best of our ability based on the applicants that applied.”
While over-representation of members of Fraternity and Sorority Life and of white students remains a salient issue, orientation area directors and First Year Experience staff said that they never forget aim to center a staff mission of increasing diversity and representing the traditionally marginalized populations on campus.
“I think it’s important to see people from diverse experiences and diverse populations as leaders in these positions,” orientation area director Abhi Chadha ’20 said. “I think just seeing these people in leadership tells someone with a diverse experience … ‘You can still succeed and thrive at this school.’”