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Orientation Focused on Ethics, Inclusivity and Civic Engagement Sets Students Up for Success

Students in a first-year seminar take advantage of a warm summery day during Orientation Week. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Students in a First-Year Seminar take advantage of a warm summery day during Orientation week. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Programs welcome class of 2022 into global campus community

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Traditionally, Orientation is a time to get used to new surroundings, make new friends, learn about resources and discover what it’s like to live on a college campus. But it’s also an ideal time for first-years and transfer students to pause and reflect on what matters most to them as they learn how to thrive in new community.

That’s an essential skill for the 630 members of Dickinson’s class of 2022, who hail from 25 countries and are preparing to enter an increasingly globalized marketplace. So, in between Orientation campus tours, info sessions and icebreaker get-togethers, these new students learned about three key aspects of the college’s culture—service, inclusivity and ethics—and how these principles can help them participate more meaningfully in the campus community they now call home.

"Service, inclusivity and ethics are fundamental to everything we do at Dickinson, and fundamental to what the college stands for," says President Margee Ensign. "It begins from the students' first week on campus."

Learning to agree, and disagree, well

One of the first steps is recognizing and understanding cultural difference, which requires acknowledging how difference can influence values and views while learning how to communicate effectively across those differences. This year, new students got a head start thanks to two ethical-reasoning Orientation sessions facilitated by Amy McKiernan, assistant professor of philosophy.

Students were invited to discuss ethical dilemmas they anticipate facing in college and then think through how they might respond and why. Next, they took part in guided, low-stakes conversations that helped them get to know each other and build trust while sharpening their active listening and empathy skills. Then it was time to gather in the Kline Center and test drive what they’d learned so far.

After a staff member read a statement, the students were asked to stand in one of four corners in the room—one designated for students who agree with the statement, another for those who strongly agree, and a third and fourth for students who disagree and strongly disagree. Students were encouraged to recognize that it was OK if they were not completely certain of their views, and that it’s OK to change their minds. Then each student paired up with a partner and discussed what they believe and why.

“These exercises are focused on modeling what respectful and productive disagreements look like at Dickinson, while helping to make us stronger thinkers, empathetic listeners and better community members,” says McKiernan. “They also invite students to consider how social and cultural differences impact our values.”

Giving back to the community

While they discovered how to thrive as part of a diverse community, new students also learned how to help strengthen their community by giving back.

Orientation's First-Year Service Day gave students a chance to make a mark in the local community while getting to know students with like interests. Working side by side with fellow members of their First-Year Groups as well as students and staff from Dickinson's Center for Service, Spirituality & Social Justice, the students volunteered with local nonprofits for one afternoon and learned about the ways they can get involved with local organizations and programs.

The students also learned that there are ample Dickinson clubs and organizations and special events devoted to helping students serve the greater good, as well as student leadership programs and service-learning and study-abroad opportunities. These include classes that take students out into the community to perform original research and help solve real problems as well as Mosaics and service trips across the country and around the world.

Continuing ed

Sessions like these are only the beginning of a yearlong exploration for Dickinson first-year students, who’ll continue to connect and learn during First-Year Seminars and First-Year Group outings, and through mentorship programs, clubs and organizations, and—of course—their courses. But getting a head start on this journey of self-discovery—both as individuals, and as part of a wider community—sets them up for success, says Josh Eisenberg, assistant dean of student leadership & new student programs.

“At Dickinson, Orientation is not only about acclimating yourself to Dickinson but also having intentional conversations with those different from you,” he explains. “Whether casually, over Rita's Water Ice, or more purposely—during the Common Experience, where students explore their personal values—our Orientation program stands out for offering numerous opportunities to do that."


Before Orientation, first-year students also had the opportunity to participate in Pre-Orientation Adventures. With activities ranging from kayaking and ropes courses to service learning and leadership development, these activities combined experiential education and team-building exercises to introduce students to the Dickinson experience.

View photos from Orientation and Pre-Orientation on Facebook.


Published August 31, 2018