Due to recent concerns that this past Week of Welcome (WOW) program was associated with an increase in alcohol consumption, citations and arrests, Vice President of Student Affairs Cornel Morton, who has been at Cal Poly for seven years, said the week before school this year was the worst in terms of alcohol use that he has seen. Morton is part of a committee recently formed to propose changes to WOW and the other orientation programs, some of which include a yearlong message campaign about the effects of alcohol abuse, notifying parents of underage drinking, keeping most returning students from moving on-campus during WOW and shortening WOW to three and a half days.
Morton wants to clarify that WOW is not responsible for the incidents that occurred during the week before school. In fact, WOW educates participants about alcohol abuse, encourages responsible community involvement and promotes drug-free activities, he said.
“WOW is not a bastion for alcohol abuse.”
Director of Student Life & Leadership Ken Barclay agreed, saying that WOW has a community service component, awareness programs and team building that mean a high retention rate of students returning for sophomore year.
“They also provide students with a big support group,” he said. “Many times it lasts throughout their years at Cal Poly.”
He added that they evaluate WOW and the other orientation programs annually, so having to make changes is not new.
Parental notification is another strategy being considered, not only during WOW but for the entire year, Morton said. It is permissible to notify parents when their underage student receives an alcohol violation under the 1998 Higher Education Act. Students will be told that their parents are being mailed a letter. The letter is not a judicial, simply a note of concern, Morton said.
Business junior Greg Hinchman said students should deal with legal consequences of alcohol and drug use on their own.
“Most of these kids are 18, so they (the school) should leave it up to the kid to tell their parent, because they’ll probably have to anyway,” he said.
This year, freshmen were on-campus 11 days before classes began. Barclay said they’re looking at how to best deliver the orientation programs next year without having so much time between move-in day and the start of classes.
“I think it’s a long time to be up here before classes begin; I think it’s problematic,” he said.
The three summer orientation programs, Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR), Fall Launch and WOW will be scheduled closer together and all three will address alcohol and abuse.
This September saw the first Fall Launch, a program hosted by University Housing Saturday to Monday to establish a community dynamic, educate students about Cal Poly’s Learning Objectives and on-campus resources and connect students and faculty.
Ninety-eight percent of the freshman class (3,815 students) participated in Fall Launch Class of 2013. Of those, 1,263 took a survey after the program concluded. The results were positive, Associate Director of Housing Carol Schaffer said. The survey said that an overwhelming majority of participants were more familiar with the campus and felt connected to Cal Poly (95 percent) and met people they felt comfortable hanging out with (96 percent) and understood community expectations of making choices that are mature, responsible and respectful (97 percent).
The program was successful in helping students learn community standards and offering drug-free activities that set the standard for the year. It also helped students establish a support structure, Schaffer said.
“The ability to meet with students and have their attention for those first days to build community roommate to roommate, floor to floor and building to building, what I saw by Sunday afternoon was impressive,” she said.
The decrease in community standards violations from 2008 to 2009 indicated a 25 percent decrease; there was also an 83 percent decrease in housing license revocations.
In addition, this year returning students were allowed to move into on-campus housing a week before the start of school, but Morton said that University Housing is considering letting only certain students like orientation leaders, athletes, student volunteers and employees move in that early next year.
WOW already addresses alcohol abuse and consequences, but Andrene Kaiwi-Lenting, assistant director of Student Life & Leadership, said the program is making changes for next fall, including shortening the program from the usual five days to three and a half days next fall.
“WOW is resolving what it can … You will see significant changes, but it won’t be foolproof,” she said.
Psychology sophomore Geneva Licht said WOW shouldn’t be associated with alcohol consumption. It’s normal for freshmen to want to go out when they get to college; people off campus are facilitating the issue of alcohol consumption with a ‘WOWies are welcome’ attitude. The program tries to counteract the issue by keeping students late at night, but it can’t do much more, she said.
“I think the WOW program does all it can,” she said.
Kinesiology junior Chad Crockett added that returning students come back early because they know it’s a big party time, but there isn’t a feasible way to prevent that.
“It’s a large contribution, but it’s out of anybody’s hands, including WOW,” he said.
Kaiwi-Lenting said that WOW already offers freshmen opportunities to have drug-free fun with activities on-campus and in the local community from early in the morning to late at night, but it can’t and won’t babysit participants, she said.
“I don’t think it’s WOW’s responsibility to keep people off the streets, but it is to give them options,” Kaiwi-Lenting said.
Recreation, parks and tourism administration junior and 2009 WOW leader Ryan Swearingen, said he talked about alcohol with his WOWies and advised them not to drink, but knows that students will choose to drink anyway.
“Knowing that some students will still choose to drink alcohol, no matter how much you encourage otherwise, I advised my WOWies that above all, they need to be responsible,” he said. “They need to think about how their choices can affect them, and how they can affect other people as well.”
Swearingen does not like the idea of shortening WOW to three and a half days. Some of the main purposes of WOW are to meet new people, establish friendships and connections, become familiar with the campus and community and become aware of issues students face everyday as a college community. All of these things are critical to student success, he said.
“Shortening WOW in order to limit the opportunities for freshmen to drink/party/get into trouble is a great idea at first glance,” he said. “But before we jump into this, look at other schools. These kinds of problems happen everywhere, whether it is during the weekends before school starts or during the first weeks of classes. Before we decide to shorten WOW, we need to remember how much good WOW does, and look at how shortening WOW could influence that.”
The committee includes representatives from Student Affairs, University Housing, Student Life and Leadership, Campus Dining, University Police Department, San Luis Obispo Police Department and the Health Center. They are meeting weekly with hopes of presenting a plan to President Warren Baker and Provost Robert Koob early November.