JMU's webpage for the 1787 Weeks of Welcome says that incoming students will make friends, but that's not the case for everyone.

To some, freshman year of college isn’t glamorous. For many first-year students, it’s hard and confusing. It’s awkward. Oftentimes, any sense of normalcy in an individual’s life is upended the second they step onto their new college campus. It’s a new beginning, and everything feels foreign. 

In order to create a sense of normalcy, JMU seeks to create a memorable experience for first-year students during its 1787 Weeks of Welcome, more commonly referred to as “FROG Week.” As stated on the JMU Orientation page, all first-year students are expected to be on campus and participate in these activities. 

The page goes on to describe James Madison meeting with his “buddies” to write the U.S. Constitution in 1787. It says that the U.S. was never the same after that year, and that the same will be true for students after FROG week. Among other goals listed on the website, it says that “during 1787 you will ... make friends,” which isn’t the case for everyone.

FROG Week is composed of group activities that one does with their “FROG group.” A student’s FROG group is created based on the dorm they live in. Odds are, not everyone is going to love the people they end up living with. At JMU, students are allowed to select their roommates. However, the transition from an online friendship prior to moving in is much different than an in-person one. 

For the 2021-22 academic year, first-year students are able to select their residence hall, room, bed assignment and roommate. However, they can't control who else lives on their hall. If a student is stuck in a group of people they don't end up getting along with, their transition into college may not be all that great— and they're left behind in the race to make friends. 

During FROG Week, students spend the majority of their days with their group. This leaves students almost no time to explore JMU on their own before classes start. For an independent person, the numerous days spent doing group activities definitely aren’t ideal, and therefore, FROG Week could feel childish and unneeded. 

The reality is that it’s hard to make friends, and FROG Week doesn’t necessarily help with its forced and often awkward bonding activities. How many upperclassmen can say that they’re still friends with the people from their freshman dorms? 

Something that’s not discussed nearly enough is how JMU is overwhelmingly populated with students from Virginia. According to JMU’s facts and figures, as of fall 2021, 78% of undergraduates who attend JMU are in-state students. This leaves those who are out of state as the rest of the student body. 

For a public school, this isn’t surprising. However, what’s important to understand is that students from Virginia are more likely to know other students when they first arrive on campus compared to the out-of-state students. This gives them an advantage because they’re starting college with people they already know. If they’re unsure who to reach out to or to hang out with, odds are they went to high school with at least a few other JMU students. Meanwhile, students from other states are less likely to have come to JMU with friends and classmates from the same high school.  If you compare this with a student who’s from Connecticut, the odds of them knowing someone are much slimmer. This is significant because the transition to college feels less foreign and unfamiliar when one has friends from home. 

Samantha Rhoads, a senior communications major, said she didn’t enjoy her time during JMU’s 1787 Weeks of Welcome. 

“I remember sitting there, not enjoying myself, and I didn’t want to be there,” Rhoads said. “It was really tiring.”

Rhoads, originally from the Philadelphia area, only knew two girls from her hometown before coming to JMU. She expressed that when she first got to JMU, she “really wanted to meet people and hang out with them.” 

“​​I think FROG week should be optional,” Rhoads said. “You shouldn’t be required to do it.” 

The loneliness during this transition can be unbelievable. Students may find it hard to fit in and feel the pressure to find their group of friends immediately. As a result, some students may find this loneliness unbearable and might even decide to leave school. Recently, the social media platform TikTok has been flooded with videos of college freshmen leaving their school only days after arriving. According to Education Data, “in the United States, the overall dropout rate for undergraduate college students is 40%, with approximately 30% of college freshmen dropping out before their sophomore year.” 

TikTok user croccharmer created a video Aug. 24 saying that she was already planning to leave JMU because she was a sophomore placed in a freshman dorm. While she isn’t a freshman, her experience is important because it shows how much a student’s living situation can affect their experience of college. It’s interesting that only in the first week of school, she knew she wanted to leave JMU. This is a quick decision. From the university's position, transfer students aren't required to live on campus or in first-year dorms, but the user's point poses the question: Does JMU try as hard with transfer students to make their transition go smoothly? Or do they just let them slip through the cracks? 

The comments that are left on the video hold significance as well. One user stated, “literally have cried several times a day since I’ve been at JMU.” Another user commented, “I only lasted 10 days there.” While a few students having this same experience may not seem that crazy, it’s only one of many TikToks that have been created about JMU specifically, not to mention the hundreds that have been created about having this experience as a freshman at college in general. 

For a university that emphasizes how important students' happiness is, it doesn’t seem as though it works hard enough to make that a genuine priority. While this statement may look good on JMU’s website, it doesn’t reflect accurately on the university.

CORRECTION (9.21.21, 11:51 a.m.): For the 2021-2022 academic year, first-year students are able to select their hall, room and bed for their living assignment. Additionally, transfer students coming in as a year above their first are classified as upperclassmen and are not required to live on campus or in a first-year residence hall. Students coming in with no prior experience at a 2-year or 4-year institution, however, are required to live on campus for what is considered their first year of college.

Contact Margaret at Margaret Willcox is a media arts and design major.