The orientation program prides itself in having the best student experience for incoming university students; however, despite Western University’s prioritization of the orientation program, overt and covert racism is institutionalized within it, leading to long lasting impacts on Western students and Western culture.
The current structures within the orientation program do not reflect the diversity we have on our campus.
It is important to acknowledge that the social science community, whether it is through clubs, student council or sophing, has played a role within the structure of orientation and its discriminatory institutions and culture. However, it is extremely important to our team that we work to address the systemic discrimination within the program, through a re-evaluation of our internal team culture and behaviour; rather than continue to be a part of the problem.
The Instagram account UWOMinorityStory reminds us that these issues are not unique to our team but are embedded within the structures of the orientation program. The stories remind us to be honest in our self-reflection regarding the uncomfortable truth that racism, discrimination and ignorance exist in this program in order to create structural change.
With the understanding that this is not an exhaustive list of all the issues present we, the social science soph team, call on Western University, Western Housing, orientation staff, and the University Students’ Council to make the following changes to the orientation program.
It is crucial that the incoming Leadership Teams receive diversity training before the team selection process, as the teams are tasked with shaping the orientation program through team selection and throughout their term in leadership.
The soph application process must be re-evaluated. The orientation program has been predominantly white, which puts Black and Indigenous student leaders of colour in challenging positions and negatively impacting sophs’ ability to support a diverse group of first-year students. We strongly believe that the process plays a role in perpetuating the lack of diversity within the orientation program.
Soph training neglects to address intersectionality. Sophs are expected to support first-year students transition into university. Given that first-years and sophs have intersectional identities, intersectionality must be institutionalized in training rather than a buzzword.
The posts on UWOMinorityStory highlight that sophs can be perpetrators of intolerance and discrimination. There needs to be re-evaluation of the orientation complaint process and the soph contract to ensure the voices of Black and Indigenous students of colour are heard and taken seriously.
To conclude, while we appreciate the positive experiences that the orientation program has given us, it would be irresponsible to ignore the harm that the current structures have caused. The social science team is not perfect, and we are working with our team to deconstruct harmful behaviours in order to ensure that every student feels included within our community.
However, it is crucial that Western University, Western Housing, orientation staff and the USC lead macro-level changes within the orientation program to ensure that the program accurately reflects the diversity of our community and values of our school.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please reach out to our leadership team at email@example.com.
— The social science soph team, Jess Omorodion, Anne Campbell, Miranda McDonald, Imraj Sahota and Matias Wharton-Mery