Any change made to Introductory Seminar Week (ISW) seems to be a point of contention for the Trent community.
There’s a good reason for this: introductory seminars are what make our version of university orientation unique. Few other universities give you a chance to have a conversation with faculty from any department that sounds interesting to you. They’re an important academic aspect to a week that, in other places, can be primarily about parties and drinking.
The Office of Student Affairs must really be asking for the hate mail by taking them out of the name entirely, opting instead for the more standard “Orientation Week.”
Except, maybe it’s time we challenge this one of our beloved traditions at Trent. After all, the OSA isn’t doing away with the seminars, they’re just acknowledging they’re no longer the week’s main focus.
Introductory seminars were great in a time before the Internet made so much information readily accessible. But by the time they get here, new students have probably learned all they need to know about the departments they’re interested in at Trent.
I’m not just talking about reading the Canadian Studies or Biology departmental website, either.
The summer before I came to Trent I sent an email to the head of the English department asking about whether using second-hand novels was acceptable to do. In his reply, he criticized the bookstore and recommended I buy as many books second-hand as I can, though the page numbers might be off from the lecture slides.
That, to me, is a very “Trent” interaction to have with a professor. (Full disclosure, I ended up an English Major, though I came here originally for Computer Studies and took Calculus, Sociology, and Philosophy in first year.)
In years past, there’s no doubt this would have happened in ISW. But for me it happened in late-July, two months before I would even set foot for the first time in Peterborough.
While discovering the major you had never even dreamed of in an introductory seminar was a common narrative a few years ago (everyone I know who started here between 1995 and 2005 has told me their version of this story), folks in my cohort, and most people who started after me, almost never tell that tale (my co-editor is a notable exception).
I did attend seminars during ISW, but I felt as though everything that was said in the one given by the English department was something I was aware of from some other source. I enjoyed the seminar, but it certainly wasn’t necessary for me.
Most people I knew in residence didn’t even attend a single one, though we were told they were mandatory. I’ve heard this blamed on the rise of professional programs at Trent, but in my experience it’s actually these students keeping them alive. I can’t tell you how useful these seminars are for Nursing or Forensics majors who can’t decide on which course to take as their elective.
There’s no doubt the seminars are an important piece of orientation activities at Trent. But it’s been a long time since they’ve been the focal point of the week to the same degree that they once were. There’s no problem, in my mind, in acknowledging that.