The Undergraduate Experience:
The First in an Occasional Series
orientation sessions July 27, these now first-year students
and their parents milled about in Newcomb Hall, getting
to know the University and one another.
the primary focus of a university is to enrich the minds of its
students At the University of Virginia, student life outside
the classroom is viewed as equally important.
the next year, Inside UVA will go behind the scenes at
the Office of Student Affairs to explore what it takes
to create the ndergraduate experience and to graduate
what Thomas Jefferson called “educated citizens” — individuals
who can lead, not just by virtue of the knowledge they
have acquired in the classroom, but by virtue of what
they have learned as full participants in a vibrant community
steeped in the principles of responsibility, honor, and
in the afternoon on the first of two days of orientation,
about 400 incoming students and a like number of their
parents, packed the lower level of Old Cabell Hall for
a presentation on technology at U.Va.
it ended, orientation director Tabitha Enoch, energetic
even in the midst of her seventh orientation session of
the summer, stepped up to the microphone.
is the time to make plans to meet your sons and daughters
tomorrow morning at 10:15!” she declared.
many of them far from home and knowing few of their peers. Parents
would follow their own schedule before spending the night in
local hotels, while their kids would retire to Hereford College.
There was no poll taken of the parents at that moment. If
there had been, though, it might well have found that
many of them
were thinking the same thing: My baby’s growing up.
accomplished,” Enoch would likely say.
While she sees plenty of practical reasons to split the parents
from their children, Enoch recognizes that the divide is
also the first step toward U.Va.’s unique student experience. “Student
self-governance” is a phrase thrown around a lot on Grounds,
usually in reference to student-run organizations like the Honor
and Judiciary committees or Student Council. But the phrase applies
to every student every day; all are expected to govern their
own behavior, making their own decisions with decreasing input
from their parents.
parents may not be ready to leave their children, come
move-in day, they and
are better prepared for the transition, thanks to the orientation
program they attended earlier in the summer. Here, the
Foggies, from the Bronx, N.Y., help their daughter, Justina,
move in to her dorm room — Dad sets up the computer,
Brother helps unpack, and Mom makes up the bed.
Hence, the harsh reality of orientation: parents are informed,
nicely but firmly, that they are not invited to tag along
when students meet with their faculty advisers to work
Most parents seem to respect their students’ need for independence,
Enoch said, although some find it harder to cut the strings.
what happens then is you see parents and students on their
cell phones all the time,” she said. “‘Where
are you? What are you doing?’”
emphasis on the student experience during orientation is more
than symbolic. Current students play a starring
the program. Twenty-eight of them, hand-picked
through an application process, undergo eight days of training
leaders, who guide groups of their future peers
the process. Students are at the front of the room
for many of
sessions, not as mere exhibits but as the main
The most popular session in parents’ evaluations is “Parents
as Partners,” which features
associate dean of students Aaron Laushway, along
with student orientation leaders Rachel Dada
and Tim Monaghan.
is your opportunity to ask those questions that would humiliate
your daughters and sons if they were here,” Laushway told
the parents, before offering candid advice about parenting from
a distance and the challenges that both parents and students
He then yielded the stage to Dada and Monaghan,
who performed a skit chronicling two students’ adaptation to University
life through their phone calls to home at three points in their
first semester. When the parents got their chance to ask questions — ranging
from the dos and don’ts of dorm furnishings to safety concerns —Laushway
deferred to the students to answer them, interjecting sparingly
only when needed.
“It’s an important part of the culture,” Enoch said. “[Faculty
presenters] know that the students are the ones that the parents
and students want to hear from. … For the most part, students
do a good job of answering the tough questions.”
Likewise, one of the student’s highest-rated sessions is
an evening sit-down with only orientation leaders, in which they
can ask about anything that comes to mind, out from under the
watchful eyes of their parents.
Deirdre Kelly, from Queens, N.Y., called
the student-only panel her favorite. “They talked about what to bring, what not
to bring, what professors to take,” she said. “If
professors ran it, it probably would be different.”
There were explicit messages bolstering
student self-governance, as well. In
address, Board of Visitors
member Susan Y. “Syd” Dorsey extolled the value of the Honor System,
as did University President John T. Casteen III in videotaped
remarks. Patricia Lampkin, vice president for student affairs,
also declared, “This is now your University” and
urged the students to “create your own experience.”
Later on the first day, representatives
from the Honor and Judiciary committees
to their respective organizations and
urged them to get involved.
The honor message showed signs of getting
through. Incoming student Michael Gugel
N.Y., was making his
first visit to
Grounds. “My high school is notorious for cheating,” he
said. “Coming here, it’s refreshing. It’s a
The orientation schedule was grueling,
with events scheduled for students
a.m. on day one until
almost midnight. Breakfast was served
at 8 a.m. on day two, with more
events — thankfully, many of them self-paced — until
4 p.m. Check-out closed at 5 p.m.
By lunchtime on the second day, both
students and parents were looking
weary as they
and their overloaded
navigated Newcomb Hall. In the
cafeteria, a Midlothian parent — his daughter
safely out of range, chatting with newfound friends — contemplated
drop-off day, then just a month away.
told my wife that it will be like the first time she rode the
bus to school for kindergarten,” he said. “She just
got on and never looked back.
this time she won’t be coming back in the afternoon.”
That didn’t mean the parents were steeled for drop-off
Rene Hasey, a mother from
Lexington, listened to her
She had hoped to find her
way around, get her class
up and learn more about clubs
and activities, and had managed
check all of those
things off her
was ready to move in.
But was Mom ready to leave
“No!” Rene Hasey said. “Not at all.”