Traditionally, universities welcome new students with a week's worth of orientation tedium---think tours of the campus, barbeque on the quad with 3,000 other awkward frosh, boring welcoming speeches by academic pooh-bahs. A sleepy student is a prepared student, is the idea.
But the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group is breaking that mold with its Alt 101, an alternative orientation series that is unapologetically political, controversial and, the group hopes, engaging.
"University administrations and student unions tend to have their orientation events focused specifically on campus and the student body," says Sébastien Labelle, a fourth-year international studies and theatre student at Dal and NSPIRG board member.
"Alt 101 hopes to give students the opportunity to explore the wider community in which they're embedded, and hopefully build bridges between the student body and community at large. It's allowing students to explore beyond campus and kind of undo the isolation that occurs---to get students more rooted in the community they're in. We're getting those students to set some roots in Halifax."
Scheduled events include a feminist teach-in on reproductive justice, an "Are You Queer Enough?" workshop, discussions of tenants' rights and anti-war work, a bike tour of Halifax, a tour of artist studios, and radio training at CKDU, among others (the complete schedule is at nspirg.org).
Last school year, some students at Dal unsuccessfully attempted to cut off NSPIRG's funding from student fees, precisely because the group reaches out beyond the campus to work with non-student groups. But those ill feelings appear to be have been "smoothed over," says Labelle, at least for the moment.
"We think it's important [for students] to build connections to people in the community, to get a chance to discover the social and physical and natural environment that surrounds them," he says. —Tim Bousquet