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A Cautionary Tale from a College Disaster: Leadership Denied

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orientationactivity2.jpgWhile some colleges have a quick one-day orientation or even a simple online registration, other colleges have week-long activities ranging from seminars and lectures to outdoor orienteering adventures. The goal of orientation is to make sure students feel at home on campus or, at least, well versed on where to go, whom to talk to, and what the school offers. Orientation is a way to make nervous first-years feel connected to their academic community of students.

I will never forget moving into my dorm during my first year orientation week being completely scared out of my mind. However, at Hollins, meeting people came easy. In fact, we were put into groups of six or seven students with a student advisor, who was a grade or two older than us, to spend the week with. We played ice-breaker games, talked about high school, and spent the days getting to know each other in the August heat. My student advisor, known as a Student Success Leader (SSL), was a quiet sophomore, English major (just like me). She helped my fellow group members put together our schedules, get to our seminars on time, and learn all about Hollins and its academics.

Although orientation went quickly, I never forgot how amazing my SSL was. She went out of her way to stay in contact with all of us first years, even leaving us goodie bags of finger puppets and Hello Kitty stickers. She always made herself available, and I couldn’t have thanked her more.

At the end of my first year, applications for the new program called Orientation Leaders were released. The application was simple, asking for information on my campus activities, my schedule, and ideas about community building. I then signed up for an interview with two or three other girls. During the interview, the Dean of Students asked questions to the other girls, snubbing me from the conversation.

Dean of Students, Patty O’Toole, and I have gone way back since the very beginning of my academic career at Hollins. She came to Hollins my first year, and I remember her telling my mom how excited she was to be at Hollins and to help all the students during a Parents event at Orientation. When she started to ignore me from the conversation, I knew immediately that I would be rejected from being an O-Team participant because of our run-ins in the past. And my gut instinct ended up being correct!

While other girls found out they made the O-Team program, I received nothing in my e-mail or through the mail. I was told that I would receive a message regardless if I made it or not, but I didn’t get anything. Everyone who applied for O-Team made it (or at least that I knew of, and keep in mind – Hollins is so small, word travels fast), except my friends and me. I didn’t understand why I would be passed upon. Here I was – an eager student ready to I repay the favor of my student advisor the year before with no Honor Court violations, and an active participant in my community – being turned down.

Obviously, since the Dean was responsible for handling (and fumbling through) many issues I had at the school, it was apparent that she kept me off so I wouldn’t share my story with the first years. Better to keep me away from them so as not to ruin the Hollins image. In fact, whenever Hollins and its image of being this sanctuary of sisterly love comes into perspective for what it really is, I have found that the university will do nearly anything to try and keep their image clean, even if they have to hide things and lie through their teeth to do so.

When my mom and I met with the President, we brought this up at as well. After reviewing my credentials with President Gray, she seemed to think it was a little strange that I wasn’t put on O-Team. Home for the summer, about a month after meeting with the President, I received a phone call from the Dean asking me if I was willing to put our differences aside to work as a team during orientation. If I was asked questions about being an O-Team leader to begin with, maybe the Dean would have known why (besides looking at my application) being a part of freshman orientation was important for me.

Although this story ended up having a somewhat happy ending – I got to participate as an O-Team leader and thoroughly enjoyed the orientation process – it was a hassle to go through. All of these unnecessary steps could have been prevented from the get-go. No one should have to go to the President for something as simple as being rightfully placed on a leadership team.

I may strongly dislike Hollins, but it doesn’t mean I have nothing positive to share or give. In fact, after all the things I experienced first year, I came back and became one of the most involved students on campus. I sat on the Student Life council, I was the Guest Speakers Bureau chair for the Activity Board and brought four amazing speakers to campus, and I was an active member in the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. With those activities as part of my schedule, there was no reason to ignore me for a role as an O-Team leader. The Dean made a subjective decision, which was unprofessional and wrong when looking at the facts of what kind of student I am.

Just because I can’t stand the university, doesn’t mean I am unable of participating as a contributing community member. No one, not even the administration, is going to hold me back from being a part of the community. I refuse to let them because Hollins is my community too, even if the administration and the bulk of students like to make it feel as if it’s not.

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