If any returning student or graduate were to imagine their 1787 Weeks of Welcome, they’d see their freshman selves eating at a crowded E-Hall for brunch, playing Rock Paper Scissors on the football field with hundreds of people or walking downtown with their First Year Orientation Guide (FROG) group for the annual block party.
But, the class of ’24 has experienced an orientation and first week of classes like no other, and it may be memorable in its own way as the U.S. continues to battle COVID-19.
On Sept. 1, JMU administration announced that classes will temporarily move to all online Sept. 7 and that all on-campus residents return home by that date. Despite this, first-year students were still able to experience a new form of 1787 Weeks of Welcome.
Sarah Sunde, director of orientation, said she wanted to keep the essence of traditional programs, such as helping students build connections, giving them access to classrooms and meeting with their academic adviser.
She said programs like PlayFair were virtual and that a pep rally wasn’t possible, but the orientation team was able to allow students to experience the memorable moment of walking through the stadium with a socially distanced “Brighten the Lights” event.
“How do you scale programs and events for 4,700-plus students?” Sunde said. “That was our largest concern. There are some moments on campus that people just recall because they’re such common experiences. We knew it was going to be different.”
Meredith Peters, a freshman international business major, said she arrived at Shenandoah Hall on Monday, Aug. 24 at the last time slot to move in, which was from 4-7 p.m. Because of the longer, staggered process, FROG groups were determined by move-in time and date, Sunde said.
While the later arrival times may have felt like a disadvantage to some, others, such as FROG and junior health sciences major Taylor Durham, thought the new method of assigning 1787 groups was beneficial.
“I honestly kind of like [it] a little bit more than how it was in the past because students get to connect and meet other students that they probably wouldn’t have ever met before,” Durham said.
Peters’ first FROG activity started around 8:30-9 p.m. that evening, but she was able to have a full day’s worth of FROG activities on Tuesday and said it was the “perfect length.” She said the orientation staff did well with spreading out the FROG groups and was happy to meet people from the whole building rather than just her hall.
Peters said that even though FROG week was shorter, it still prepared her well for the first week of classes.
“I was tired after that day, but I felt like I got a lot of good information and that I was basically prepared to, like, start school at JMU,” Peters said. “My FROGs are really, really nice and very encouraging — really supportive.”
Durham, who served as a FROG for a Sunday move-in group in Shenandoah Hall, said she was so excited to meet the first years and described her short time as a FROG as the best experience of her life. However, she said she was sad that they were only able to spend time with them over the course of three days.
“Tuesday — that was the saddest day — we only saw them for lunch, and that was the last day my FROG partner and I saw them,” Durham said. “So, we haven’t seen them since. I’m a little sad about it. I miss them already.”
Even with JMU’s official decision to send on-campus residents home, Durham said she still plans on being there for her first years, even if it’s over a Zoom call. She said she wants them to know she’s always a resource.
“Just because they’re going home doesn’t mean that my FROG duties are done,” Durham said. “Just because I might not be able to do it physically, I can still do it online … I’m sure that they’re going to have even more questions.”
Now being sent home, the class of ’24 is starting their college careers in a way most never could’ve imagined.
“I am like, overwhelmed and sad at the same time,” Durham said. “I can’t even imagine what the first years are going through … As much as I want everyone to be here — especially my first years — I hope that we stay online because I want everyone to be safe and stay safe.”
Contact Kailey Cheng and Ryann Sheehy at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.