This isn’t mandatory

Off the Beat


No matter how terrible your orientation experience was, I can almost certainly guarantee that your Golden Bear Orientation leader had a worse time. For me, perhaps more dreadful than the sleepless nights — and even worse than the omnipresent fear of losing a freshman on public transit — was the exasperation of answering “The Question.”

If you’ve ever been an orientation leader before, you know which one I’m talking about. It’s the one you were asked ad nauseum, from before the first awkward icebreaker until even after the group had dispersed after final closing. It’s the message that lit up your home screen with notifications from 10, 20 — sometimes even 30 students — asking the same question every day.

Everybody, say it with me now: “Is this thing mandatory?”

If you’re a freshman: Yes, this is mandatory. In fact, everything is mandatory, and your registration will be held if you miss a single event. No exceptions. Full stop.

My frustration stems not from the fact that so many freshmen were asking me questions or even that they were all asking the same one. In most cases, asking questions is highly encouraged, and seeking clarification through follow-up is a skill that should be cultivated.

Even if I believed otherwise, it was my job as an orientation leader to aid these freshmen — incessant, repetitive questions and all — during their first week at Cal, and I was ready to be the best damn orientation leader these freshmen could ever hope to be assigned.

I had been trained, mentally prepared and given a standard response for “The Question” and every one of its iterations. Yet every time someone asked me, “So how mandatory is this activity really?” I couldn’t help but be annoyed and frustrated before I delivered the scripted answer.

The standard response was an elegant composition of guilt (“We just want to remind you that you’ve already paid for orientation”), concession (“This isn’t mandatory …”), sandwiched by more guilt (“… but we highly encourage that you participate in everything”).

Typically, the three-word concession was enough of a blessing for the freshmen to excuse themselves from whatever “Incredibly Exciting Activity” my co-leader and I had planned, but it wasn’t a big deal. I wasn’t personally offended that my students probably had more exciting social ventures to pursue, nor was I unsympathetic toward their boredom with the tediously long orientation program.

So at the end of it all, why was I so frustrated by “The Question”?

I suppose my biggest issue with “The Question” was not how frequently it was asked, but the apathy it conveyed. Clearly, most people only wanted to participate in the activities that they absolutely had to attend: the “if you don’t go to this, some terrible consequence that will affect your entire future will be inflicted upon you” kind of events. And honestly, this confused me. Why approach an entire experience as a string of obligations?

To me, orientation was a chance for new students to “become oriented” with the campus, sure; but it was also a prime opportunity for freshmen to truly be Freshmen, capital F, without hesitation or fear of judgment.

Forget the frat parties; there are four more years of those to come. This golden seven-day orientation period, on the other hand, is a one-time occurrence, one in which even the most mundane of Berkeley experiences — eating terrible food at Crossroads, hiking to the Big C, sitting on Memorial Glade — are introduced as novel, and perhaps even exciting, events.

For many freshmen, treating orientation as a string of obligations, then, likely transformed the week from the intimate insight into Cal that it was supposed to be into an impersonal process composed of X’s for non-mandatory activities and O’s for those irritatingly required events.

If I were to answer “The Question” again, I would veer off of the standard, scripted path.

It’s true: Not much is mandatory, but I would encourage participation anyway. In fact, I would also encourage open-mindedness and spontaneity, a willingness to be uncomfortable and a readiness for looking dumb.

Orientation — like life at Cal — is about discovering yourself, pushing boundaries and saying yes to more things, not fulfilling a list of requirements.

So do it all. Try out for that dance team. Get that extra boba topping, even though you can’t afford it. Let yourself fall in love. Say yes to that team social, and forget — just for a night — that you have a midterm next week.

I’ll let you in on a secret: In the end, Bear Pact is the only thing that’s mandatory anyway. So try everything, or even nothing at all. No one’s forcing you to make the most of it.

Off the Beat columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected.

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  • 1776

    Long orientations such as these are largely a waste of time imo. I remember coming in as a transfer student and having to slog through a 12 hour long orientation. All I wanted out of my orientation was to learn about my major requirement, learn how to pay my UC Bill, and learn how to sign up for classes. Once I got my telebears login info I just went home.

  • ShadrachSmith

    That part of orientation where the feminist tells you what an irredeemably deplorable a$$hole you are, skip that part, Get up and walk out. Adopt a “F me? F you!” attitude just like you had a pair.

    • Giorgios Anapoulos

      When did this ever happen ever? Did this happen to you during your freshmen orientation at UC Berkeley? I am very confused by your comment, to be honest.

      • ShadrachSmith

        But you agree that if/when a feminist starts with the ‘sinners in the hands of an angry god’ bit, “FU” and out is the right response? Just imagine a feminist could be rude, rather than righteous,…walk out…right?

  • Alexis

    The article is extremely illogical in the following ways:

    1. The author completely assumed that the ONLY reason we ask if any activity is mandatory is because we are apathetic and regard it as some undesirable “string of obligations.” This is hugely untrue. Some ask this question because they want to know how important the activities really are, and to what extent should they devote their time and energy. The author needs to recognize that freshmen are FREE individuals, who have every right to know all the information before we consent to commit ourselves, and we CAN make judgement calls on deciding which event is more crucial to ourselves. There is simply no “one-size-fit-for-all” solution and we ask the question so we can get the necessary information and make the best decisions for ourselves.

    2. The author did not establish any connection between “orientation” and ” open-mindedness and spontaneity” or “dance team” or “boba topping” or even more absurd “falling in love.” Where on the earth that escaping “orientation” now equates to escaping “falling in love”???? There is absolutely NO evidence supporting her flowery claims. I would bet you probably have a better chance of falling in love in frat parties than at an awkward icebreaker led by an “annoyed and frustrated” orientation leader. The author purposefully tried to confuse readers on the definition of “orientations” with other enjoyable things that clearly did not occur that often in orientations.

    3. The author has no reasoning in arguing why “truly be Freshmen” is even important. She just assumed that being a true freshman is nice for everyone. I don’t see why that is the case. I want to be WHOEVER I want to be, and an orientation leader does not get to tell me I’d better look like a “freshman.”

    4. Being an orientation leader, you need to remain on the scripts as YOU have agreed to do so at the training!!!! Veering off path is a dangerous slippery slope situation, and this action can be reported to authorities.

    I don’t want to assume anything as the article has done, but I would suppose the primary reason that you are frustrated and annoyed is because you feel ignored and unimportant when people clearly do not want to stay? Please clarify your stance and I look forward to hear your response

    • Giorgios Anapoulos

      You are right that this article appears to have been written as a result of misunderstandings. People have different temperaments, some are more open to, more interested in, and more deeply enjoy new experiences than others. Perhaps this orientation leader is of such a temperament that more deeply enjoys new experiences, had planned what she intended/expected to be new experiences for the people in the group, and then was surprised/disappointed when some of the students, who are not as genetically pre-disposed to enjoy new experiences, did not share her enthusiasm.

      • Nunya Beeswax

        Well, it depends on the new experiences.

        One day during orientation there was a group of 20-25 new students sitting cross-legged outside the building where I work. When I left to get some lunch, they were engaged in a discussion about identity in which each person seemed to be required to talk about the different groups with which they identified–possibly preparatory to a discussion about intersectionality? When I returned from picking up my lunch, the rap session was still plodding along.

        I can assure you that, although I have a zest for new experiences and new people, such a discussion would have seemed excruciating and interminable to me. I would have opted out. Some things you don’t need to experience in order to know you don’t want them.