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Courtesy of Brennon Mendez

Participants from the Columbia Urban Experience pre-orientation program participate in an activity in midtown. Changes may be coming to the program after students expressed their frustration after this year's participants weren't housed in the same dorm.

After students expressed dissatisfaction with housing changes during this year's Columbia Urban Experience pre-orientation program, the group's new leaders are hoping to discuss potential changes to next year's program with administrators as they evaluate the New Student Orientation Program. 

CUE is a weeklong program that allows participants to do community service in New York City before orientation. Program participants from all four undergraduate schools have traditionally been housed together in one building, but this year participants were moved directly into their respective first-year dorm rooms instead. 

A Student Affairs spokesperson said Monday that Todd Smith-Bergollo, interim dean of community development and multicultural affairs, was still in the process of scheduling an upcoming meeting with the new CUE leaders Supriya Jain, SEAS '16, and Zachary Hendrickson, CC '16. The spokesperson said that it would be too premature for Smith-Bergollo to comment further.

“As program coordinators, we have identified CUE's housing situation as a top priority,” Jain and Hendrickson said in an email. “We have been grateful so far of the administration's willingness to engage with this issue, and we look forward to their continued involvement in this issue.”

In an interview with Spectator earlier this month, Smith-Bergollo said that feedback he has seen so far indicated that some first-years preferred this year's housing situation.

“We are aware of the financial and logistical angles that they have approached this issue from,” Jain and Hendrickson wrote. “However, as participants, leaders, and now coordinators, we have a unique understanding of CUE that the administration does not.” 

Jain and Hendrickson said that survey responses from participants, testimonials from CUE Leaders had led them to believe that “this year's housing situation negatively affected the overall program in terms of logistics, community-building, and a sense of physical and emotional security.”

“We hope to be able to convey this to the administration and cooperate with them so that this year's program is as strong as it can be,” Jain and Henrickson wrote. “Communal housing is an integral aspect of what has made CUE such an incredible pre-orientation program and community-building experience, and we hope to see it reinstated for CUE 2014.”

Students interviewed over the past few weeks echoed the student leaders' sentiments.

Though he hasn't experienced the communal housing of years past, Brandon Serpas, CC '17 and a CUE participant, said he felt that something was missing from the program.

“The community was strong, but I think it would've been stronger if we'd been living together and having those experiences,” he said.

Asha Banerjee, CC '17, who lived in John Jay, agreed with Serpas. 

“I was the only one on the seventh floor. It was a little odd being all by myself on such a big floor,” Banerjee said. “Some other people had people on their floors, but I was the only one on my floor. It was more lonely than frustrating.”

Brad Koberg, CC '17, was able to recognize the practicality of a single move-in day but felt that it did not make up for lost opportunities.

“Moving in twice would have been a hassle, but there were only 54 kids in CUE, and I still didn't get to know all of them,” Koberg said. “I feel like living together in a dorm would have been a better way to get to know everybody. I have a central group of four or five CUE kids that I still talk to a lot, but I might have walked away from CUE knowing every single person as opposed to just knowing their names.” 

“I'm not dissatisfied with the situation that was this year, but I can definitely see that we missed out on a lot of community-building that would have happened if we were living in the same place,” Koberg added. 

Despite housing concerns, all three CUE-ers agreed that the program still offered plenty of chances to bond, and the long, activity-filled days made sleep a priority.

“Normally, you wouldn't be back in your dorm until 1 a.m. anyway, so it was mainly just sleep in the dorm. The ability to sleep unbothered for the few hours that you had to sleep during CUE was kind of nice. You had a maximum of six hours every night. It was nice to get those six hours without having to worry about people going crazy on your floor,” said Koberg.

“CUE was so busy, we would get back sometimes at 1 or 2 in the morning. So we would still get to bond and know everyone throughout the day. I think there was enough bonding in CUE that didn't make the housing situation terrible,” Banerjee said.

Serpas cites CUE leaders as the main reason for the program's capacity for successfully bonding students, housing changes notwithstanding. 

“The CUE leaders were amazing,” he said. “It was really easy to tell they did a lot of work. They prepare for the conversations, and they had the stamina to run everything.”

“I didn't realize how intense the program was going to be in terms of bonding people,” Serpas added. “And by bonding people I mean instant recognition—a smile and a hello even if you haven't seen them for weeks since the program ended.”

Smith-Bergollo and Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez said in an interview this month that they were going to speak with focus groups in the coming weeks about possible changes to pre-orientation programs and NSOP.  |  @ColumbiaSpec

Columbia Urban Experience New Student Orientation Program Terry Martinez Todd Smith-Bergollo
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