“A sense of belonging”: 38,000 students set to return for the new academic year

Orientation activities aim to foster a welcoming, inclusive and safe experience

 September 01, 2022

 September 01, 2022

There’s excitement in the air as Western prepares to welcome more than 38,000 students back to main campus and the Forest City for the 2022-23 academic year.

“The start of a new school year is such a special time,” said President Alan Shepard. “You can feel the enthusiasm on campus, the sense of eagerness and anticipation students have about the experiences and opportunities ahead for them and the lifelong friendships they’ll make here.”

Most courses and campus activities will be back in-person this year, with COVID-19 health and safety measures in place to help ensure the most consistent on-campus learning experience possible.

“The return of students to Western is always an exciting time for London, and this year, I believe, the anticipation is even greater as it follows two years of COVID-related disruptions,” said London Mayor Ed Holder. “We benefit immensely from the presence of Western students, faculty and staff in London, and we don’t take it for granted. They make our city more energetic, more informed and more prosperous and we thank them for choosing Western, and for choosing London.”

Home away from home

This weekend, more than 5,000 students will move into Western’s 11 residence buildings. Students were able to choose their move-in date and time, from Sept. 3 to 5. Some students, including those travelling from abroad, were offered the opportunity to move in early.

Students will be greeted by residence sophs and dons as they arrive on campus, helping them find their room and answer questions about residence life. Floor meetings and activities will be held throughout the week to help students build connections and learn more about supports on campus and in the residence community.

“Moving into residence is exciting for our students and our goal is to help them feel comfortable and supported as they make this transition to university,” said Christopher Lengyell, director of housing.

“We have staff, resources, and programming in place to help them settle in, build connections, and feel at home in our close-knit residence community.”

 Some of the ways Western students are supported in residence include:

  • Residence Life staff: Live-in residence life staff members serve as a link between students and university. Dons and residence education advisors are available to answer questions, organize activities, and connect students to campus resources.
  • Residence safety assistants: Professional staff promote a safe and supporting living environment in the residences and provide emergency and crisis response to situations that arise. They work in residences in the evenings, overnight and on weekends.
  • Faculty sophs: Provide guidance and mentorship to students in the same program or faculty.
  • Residence sophs: Acting as peer supports, residence sophs provide direct support to students in residence, including peer mentorship, academic support and welcoming activities.
  • Educational programming: Meaningful, out-of-the-classroom learning experiences and programs to support students’ academic and social transition to Western including exam review sessions, study groups, professor meet-and-greets, awareness weeks and skill workshops.
  • Living-learning communities: Students in residence have the opportunity to live on a themed floor with others that share the same faculty, program, interests or lifestyle preferences. The living-learning community floors provide a more enriched living and learning environment, combining academic integration, personal development and community engagement.
  • Residence counselling: Confidential counselling services are available to students living in residence at no cost on a wide variety of issues. A team of mental health professionals work closely with other campus departments to promote coordinated services to students living in residence.

An international welcome

About 4,800 international students from 130 different countries around the world will attend Western’s main campus this year.

An expanded international student orientation program is already underway this week, with 1,000 new international undergraduate, graduate and exchange students expected to participate.

“Many of our international students have travelled a long way, are far from home, and have had to navigate the process of going abroad to university,” said Lise Laporte, senior director, Western International. “We want them to feel supported by the Western community from day one, and a great way to do this is to provide opportunities for them to connect with each other, other Western students, campus partners and the broader London community.”

In addition to a number of information sessions, international student orientation includes campus, library and sustainability tours, a shopping trip to local stores, a parent/family session, a community fair, networking breakfasts and a lunch. An official international welcome ceremony will be held Sept. 2 at Alumni Hall with Mayor Holder and Florentine Strzelczyk, provost & vice-president (Academic) set to bring greetings.

A supportive community 

Orientation Week, Sept. 5 to 10 this year, is intended to foster a welcoming, inclusive and safe experience for all students who are new to Western.

Western and the University Students’ Council (USC) have jointly implemented a number of changes to OWeek in response to recommendations from an independent review and a report from the university’s internal action committee on gender-based and sexual violence.

“We want to provide a student-centered experience where people feel safe and a sense of belonging in a unique, welcoming community that supports academic success,” said John Doerksen, vice-provost (students).

Changes to OWeek include:

  • Expanding the variety of OWeek programming available to students to support different needs, including a mix of large and small events
  • “Care Hubs” throughout campus designed to manage a variety of needs (wayfinding, nourishment and support), staffed by those with experience providing mental health support, as well as student volunteers
  • Later starts for daytime programming and earlier end times at night to allow sophs and students to prioritize healthy sleep habits
  • Increasing the involvement of faculty in orientation programming to support students
  • Enhancements to the soph program designed to help establish genuine connections with first-year students and ensure sophs are better prepared to support students, including improved and extended training sessions

USC president Ethan Gardner spoke to the critical role sophs play in welcoming and supporting students, during OWeek and beyond.

“The sophing program is a key factor in the success of Western’s OWeek. Sophs are not only ambassadors of the campus community, but also provide valuable supports to students as they transition to life on campus. We’re incredibly proud of these student leaders and their dedication to making OWeek better for incoming students” he said.

One Love showcases speakers, artists and bravery on the UC Hill main stage, and is one of our most meaningful OWeek traditions. Taken during OWeek 2019. Photo by Phil Reg Photography

Highlights from this year’s OWeek program include the opening ceremonies concert on Sept. 5 featuring dance/electronic duo (and alumni) Loud Luxury; the One Love rally on Sept. 7, a powerful celebration of diversity and inclusion and a staple of OWeek for more than a decade; Global Village on Sept. 9, a multi-cultural event to celebrate and highlight various cultural groups within the Western community; Orientation Serves on Sept. 10, which sees students partner with non-profit organizations for an afternoon of service in support of the local community; and the Sept. 10 Mustangs football game vs. Queen’s. Other events intended to foster healthy social connections include paint nights, karaoke, indoor rollerblading, laser tag, carnival games, mini golf and movie nights.

Doerksen underlined the overall importance of OWeek in helping students make the transition from high school to university.

“We’ve been really focused on this from the perspective of first-year students who are making a major transition in their lives,” he said.

“It’s an exhilarating time, but it can also bring with it some anxiety. The university and the USC have been working very hard to help our incoming students make that transition as smoothly as possible in a safe, supportive environment.”

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