Dis-Orientation Week: for students to thrive on and off campus
Dis-mantling and re-engaging
We all know Orientation Week. Volunteers and ambassadors show you where your classes are, your first classes are introductions and perusing the syllabus. Very relaxed and low stakes. Early September is still hot and sunny. Then there’s the beer gardens, dorm parties, and Lazy Owl events. It’s a perfect recipe for a week of fun and making new friends. If I think about my undergrad days, Orientation Weeks were less about academics and more about the freedom and fun associated with university life.
For many students, this fall semester is their first time being on campus full-time. It’s both nerve-racking and exciting to return after the collective trauma of COVID-19. Many things are still the same as ever. The line at Tim Horton’s still stretches over half the food court in Riddell. Undergrads are still roaming the halls at a glacial pace. Tuition fees are still exorbitantly high. Thankfully, there are some refreshingly novel things happening on campus.
From September 12 to 16, various events were held on campus to further welcome students back to university life. I spoke to some of the organizers of Dis-Orientation Week who said the motivation for the week provides opportunities for students to learn more about student services both on and off campus. Dis-Orientation Week is primarily concerned with social justice, anti-racism, and anti-colonialism. Being a veteran of many a hazy Orientation Week, naturally I was curious to see what Dis-Orientation Week had to offer.
On Tuesday, I attended the Mental Health Meet-Up. This event was held in the ta-tawâw Student Centre (RIC 108). The student centre’s main focus is on assisting Indigenous students to successfully transition into university, to stay in university, and to smoothly transition into the workforce. Their Mental Health Meet-Up event provided a relaxing and welcoming environment. They had good snacks, too. In contrast to the bustle of campus, the ta-tawâw Student Centre was a great place to sit down and recharge for a bit. The staff are very pleasant and amiable. There’s also a lot of Indigenous art in the centre, including a beautiful buffalo hide painting. If you’re ever feeling especially stressed, I recommend going to one of their Mental Health Meet-Ups.
On Wednesday, I went to the Meet Your Representatives event in the Riddell Centre. The events schedule stated it would begin at 11:30. I arrived at Riddell around 11:15. I felt a moment of sudden panic when I saw a large crowd of people standing outside, huddled in bored packs, then found out it was an emergency drill of some kind. Gorgeous timing, really. Coming to meet politicians, but an emergency drill interrupts the proceedings. I’m sure there’s a snarky metaphor in here somewhere.
After the emergency drill, I chatted with volunteers who had an information table on the day’s events. Initially, I assumed the aforementioned representatives were URSU people. I found out, instead, that the representatives were local politicians: members of the Legislative Assembly, members of Parliament, the mayor, and school board trustees.
“Oh, jeez,” I muttered to myself. One of the volunteers asked, “Are you interested in politics?” Forlorn, I replied, “I really wish I wasn’t.”
The event’s agenda showed 10 speakers; chief among these, the Honourable MP for Regina-Qu’Appelle, Andrew Scheer. But Scheer wasn’t present. The absence was conspicuous and the disappointment in the room was palpable, or something like that. Warren Steinley, the MP for Regina-Lewvan was present, however. Each speaker was given the same questions: how does your role affect local students? What advice do you give young people who are interested in politics?
After some more or less rousing speeches, a question period was held. I was lucky enough to ask a question. My question was directed to Mr. Steinley. I asked him about the overdose crisis in Regina, which disproportionately affects Indigenous people. Is this issue on his agenda? If Truth and Reconciliation is the order of the day, what does his leadership offer to rectify this serious problem? Steinley said he understands that addiction has social causes that must be addressed. There must be better education about drugs and addiction. Economic downturns – which COVID made worse – exacerbate the problem of addiction, and so on.
Afterwards, I chatted with a fellow student from the Faculty of Education about the event. Josh King told me that the drug crisis in Saskatchewan is an issue that concerns him deeply. In response to Steinley’s comments about the drug crisis, Josh said “[Steinley] was asked a question about the drug crisis in Saskatchewan, specifically in relation to its disproportionate impact on Indigenous communities […] In classic conservative fashion, he reduced the problem to economics, saying that a better economy for Indigenous peoples would fix the issue.”
On Thursday, I went to Narcan Training on the main floor of College West. The proliferation of fentanyl and other opioids is causing an overdose crisis in Saskatchewan, and particularly in Regina. Naloxone is a drug that temporarily reverses an opioid overdose. It can be administered through either an injection or a nasal spray. Attendees at this event were shown how to administer naloxone through both methods, along with a wealth of information about harm reduction.
In Saskatchewan, rates of HIV infection have been alarmingly high in recent years. In fact, over the past decade, HIV rates in Saskatchewan have been much higher than in the rest of Canada (EIC note: we’re talking roughly three times as high as the national average). In virtually every other region in the world, the main vector of transmission of HIV is through sex. However, in Saskatchewan, most new HIV infections come from sharing needles during intravenous drug use.
I was deeply moved by this training session. I left with two naloxone nasal spray kits. I also left with a better understanding of the gravity of Saskatchewan’s drug crisis, and how important harm reduction is for all of us.
Unfortunately, most of the events I attended for Dis-Orientation Week were sparsely attended. The freedom and independence new university students enjoy is important for personal development. Orientation Week is, for the most part, a big party. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But, on the other hand, newly-obtained freedom and independence also comes with responsibility. This is why Dis-Orientation Week should become a fixture of university life also. We are here to learn and to socialize. But we’re also here to become more compassionate and socially-aware people. Have fun and be kind.