The art of letter-writing may be dying, but not in the first year dorms. New students were asked to write letters to themselves during Orientation Week regarding their thoughts on alcohol and the social scene they were about to enter.
The letters were sealed, given to proctors and now—seven weeks later—the students are opening them.
The letter-writing program is the product of collaboration between the Office of Residential Life and Peer Health, aimed at generating ongoing conversation about alcohol use. First years have been meeting with their proctors and Peer Health representatives this week to discuss how their views of the social scene and alcohol's role in it have shifted since they arrived on campus.
Associate Director of Residential Education Ben Farrell and Health Education Coordinator Emily Skinner designed the program with hopes that it would continuously generate conversation.
"[Skinner] and I were trying to think of ways we could engage first year students in a sort of reflective manner early on in school," said Farrell. "We were hoping for it to be something that would be continuing throughout the year, so not just the one conversation and then it disappears in the mist of Orientation."
Neither proctors nor Peer Health representatives read the letters, and Farrell emphasized that the exercise was not about eliciting specific answers from students.
"Emily and I were very clear when talking to each other and then, I think, talking to our staffs last week [that] we're not looking for these certain answers," said Farrell. "We're not looking for a push for anything; this is not the beginning of a larger change on campus, but it's just a way to have a conversation."
The program's participants are divided on which part is more productive: the letters or the floor meetings.
Casey Stewart '14 said that writing the letter was not "a meaningful experience."
"People will never take them 100 percent seriously," she added.
"In all honesty, it was more just bullet points of things I already knew," said Emily Carr '14 of the contents of her letter, giving "be responsible" and "learn from your mistakes" as examples of what she wrote to herself.
"If I had to say which one is more productive, the meeting or the letter, I would say the meeting. But, the letter could be a powerful tool to get people to think about it," said Oronde Cruger '11, head proctor of Maine Hall. "When people take it seriously, I think that it's an excellent exercise."
"I was pleasantly surprised," Carr said of the meeting with her floor. "More people showed up than I expected" and the conversation "was really honest."
Tom Ferlito '14, who has yet to meet with his floor in West Hall, said the letter was a worthwhile exercise.
"They always say if you write down your goals, they're more apt to happen, and I'm a firm believer in that," he said. "It was definitely good just to get you thinking about how you would handle yourself in different situations, because after the Orientation process and everything, that's one of the last things on your mind—but it's also one of the most important because everything's so new."
Junior Justin Cree, head proctor of Osher Hall, said he thought the meeting could be more productive if it had come earlier in the semester.
"It was definitely a useful program, but it should be altered a bit," he said, suggesting that the floors meet earlier in the semester when partying is likely to be more extreme rather than "in the crunch of midterms."
According to Farrell, large-scale programs regarding alcohol, like the annual Orientation presentation, are helpful, but smaller discussions can be extremely productive as they are informal and intimate.
"So much of what goes on here in the classroom, outside the classroom is done in small groups and we were wanting to replicate that as much as possible," he said. "I really wanted these to not feel like a top-down approach where the administration is telling you to talk about alcohol...I was hoping for this to just be students talking to each other."
Whether or not the program will be repeated next year is unclear. Skinner sent surveys to the proctors and Peer Health representatives on Tuesday, asking them to evaluate the exercise.
According to Farrell, the goal is to "keep a conversation going. I'm not sure what form it's going to take... We're just trying to learn from it this year."