|President Ahlburg addresses new students and their families in Laurie Auditorium on August 16, 2012. The orientation "home away from home" was where I addressed new students the following night.|
Welcome new and transfer students! It has been a true pleasure to meet many of you, and many of your family members, over the last two days.
To keep you visually engaged this evening, I have prepared an accompanying slide show for your entertainment in a desperate attempt to have you focused on something other than Facebook and texting.
As you entered the Auditorium you heard Drake Bell with his Greatest Hit – It’s Only Time. It's probably the only time that song has, or will be, played in Laurie Auditorium. You, of course remember him from the hit show of your youth, Drake and Josh.
Tonight is kind of our sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll session, and I like to get the rock-and-roll part out of the way early. I considered playing "Cell" (mistake intended) Phone by Maroon Five and "Queen Latifa" (mistake intended) or the latest song from "Gotya" (mistake intended). But I settled on Drake Bell so you wouldn’t think I was trying TOO hard to be hip.
I would have played Bruce Springsteen, as I did last year, but the class of 2015 seemed underwhelmed by my choice for them. Now I don't trust them. So I decided to play it safe, and not risk Bruce Springsteen on the Class of 2016.
I consider tonight's program a sort of triage event. It is our chance to welcome you, and in some ways, to try to save you from yourselves. Everything about your experience here is about your education, your success, and your health and safety. So that is where we begin.
There are just three things I want to talk about before we bring our panel up here in a few minutes:
First, I want you to understand where our simple rules and policies come from. They are really more a code of care - for one another - than a list of thou-shall-nots.
Second, I want to suggest to you that there can be a different way to do college than the movies have shown you.
And third, I want to try to convince you that we are “we,” rather than we are "us" and you are "them." In other words, that we are here to support you, and are here because of you and not in spite of you.
Care and respect, a different way to approach college, and trust: Those are my themes for tonight.
This week you have begun your Trinity journey, and joined a community with a tremendous tradition of respect for others: One where we embrace those of different races, religions, cultures, sexes, and gender identities. We have a national-award-winning program, Sunday about our dynamic campus. Pay attention. You are lucky to be with, and among, artists and athletes, and Texans and Yankees and international students, and engineers and poets and musicians and computer programmers. That is our community.
In this community, then, our policies are built upon respect and are values based.
This may frustrate you if you are legalistic, if you need a long list of what you can and can't do, or if you like things spelled out in black and white. But try to get used to it. In college, you will learn much more by spending time in the gray area than in the more clear cut, but stifling, black and white. You really don't even need a student handbook of rules, though we do have one on line. Just remember these simple things:
Respect yourself, others, the community, and property. If something is against the law, it is against policy. It is really that simple.
The values that matter here are that you take care of yourself - and those around you - and this place. One of the points I took away from our summer reading, is that regardless of the time in history, people can be cruel and violent. I am never sure how people can lack empathy without conscience. Sometimes that happens with college students too, though on a different scale.
Recently, we had students appear before Conduct Board because their elderly neighbors off campus complained to us that they couldn’t sleep with the disruption from the parties our students were hosting. Those students were more upset that our policies could reach off campus than that they had been rude, hostile, and intimidating to elderly neighbors. Granted, this isn’t as extreme as the horrors of the old west, but it is about empathy - and caring about others - more than one’s self. Most times here, when you find yourself in conflict with policy, it is probably because you are not being sensitive to others.
Sometimes, as with this example, some students think that the rules shouldn’t apply to them -- that college is an exception to the rules because it is the "best time of your life." But you don’t get a four year pass just because your email address ends in Edu.
We won’t expect more of you than those who preceded you at home, nor, from those who will follow us in your lives after college. So you may not like the residence hall balcony policy, for example, but it is no different than what you had in your neighborhood association back home, or that our Trinity seniors have to abide by in their off-campus apartments.
For the most part, just remember, that your right to swing your arm stops at other people’s noses, and you will be fine.
Okay, second: there are other ways to experience college than what you have been taught from the movies.
I am so sorry that you have been raised on films about how college is all about beer, parties, and sex. To be sure, there are these things, and they can be fun. Plenty of older people frequently engage in sex, booze, and rock and roll. And that’s just your parents.
So don’t carry away from tonight’s session that we are prudes. Indeed, we know this is a time when some of you will experiment, make mistakes, and explore and refine your values. We want you, and those you affect, to be safe, though, in doing so.
The movies leave out things, you will learn, like homework, grades, sexual assault, addiction, and more. So while you have been fed a myth that it is fun - and perfectly acceptable - to be berated, or to carry a chicken around campus, and that keg stands, beer bongs, and degradation of women are standard college fare, I ask that you consider that there can be more to your experience than what you have been shown. Indeed, there may be a different way to succeed in college.
Consider sophomore Andrea Medina, who came here to college hoping that students would engage in meaningful conversations. She created TU Speaks, a campus-wide blog where students are encouraged to participate and engage in dialogue and discussion on meaningful issues. She leads TU Students for Social Change - a group engaged in topics aimed at making a difference and challenging standards.
Consider the students who started, and have joined, HOPE Hall. They looked outward at our community, saw the needs of the homeless, and without judgment have organized to serve their fellow men and women. And they want you to join them.
Consider two students who last year stood up to bullies on a gossip web site, and stood up for others, suggesting that with no audience, anonymous gossips have no message. They were vilified, unfortunately, by a chorus of those extolling their own rights to free speech. In this scenario, which role would you play??
And finally, consider ASR President Joe Moore and his friends, who lost their dear classmate Alex Reinis last year. I urge you to download the Website about Alex at the memorial bench across from Miller Hall (there is a QR code right there), to learn about his spirited life. I challenge you to take time and click on the link of the Skyline Room memorial service that was held in Alex's honor. Hear the testimonies of his friends to learn about college done right. You will be moved and inspired.
College can offer the greatest years of your life, but that doesn’t mean they have to be lived based on what you think will play well on your Facebook page the next day. You can choose to play to the lowest common denominator, or not.
You can be the stereotype of a college student. Or you can be more. I urge you to consider that with what has been invested in you, and with the privilege that comes with this experience, that you make the most, and not the least, of these four years. Prohibition isn't coming back. Pace yourselves. And consider that two out of three students don’t drink or drink very little. The drinkers just make more noise and seem to talk about it a lot.
Alright: Respect for Others, Alternative ways to experience college. Two down.
Finally, I want you to understand that the members of the faculty and the staff are all here to serve, support, and challenge you. We are here by choice because we love college students. Please see us as allies, not enemies.
We know from experience that some of you are coming to us with difficult personal histories. You may have overcome an addiction, been assaulted, or experienced racism or homophobia. You may be children of poverty, divorce, and single parent families, and you may have lost people near and dear to you. You might have faced difficult psychological issues. It is also possible that you will experience some of these things when you are here at Trinity.
My own college experience was bittersweet. My parents separated, my mother took her own life, and I became dependent on alcohol. I think this makes me a better Dean of Students. I understand the breadth of highs and lows that students experience. I was the one-third who drank too much, was too loud, and talked about it way too often. I was the stereotype I urge you not to become. And I was one of those students who needed to be picked up and supported by the caring people in my University community. I think I can be empathetic and serve as someone whose mistakes you can learn from.
So I want you to trust me and to lean on me. If I could survive, you can thrive.
Likewise, everyone on the Student Affairs staff and throughout campus has their own stories. Despite us being older, more formally dressed, and lurking beyond facades of professionalism, we are just like you. In most cases, even more so. So trust us - and our intentions.
The lasting message I want to leave with you, is that if you ever need support, or if you feel lost or broken down at any time over your four years here, let us help. My promise to you is that you never, ever, have to feel alone here. We are all in, and are accessible, available, and hopefully approachable. This is what you get when you get us.
So Class of 2016, I ask you to care about each other, to be more than what you and others may expect of you, and to let us help you whenever you stumble. I am so excited to welcome you to this very special place at this very special time for you. Thank you.