Making New Friends in 'The World of Politics’

By the weekend before Move-In Day, more than 600 members of the Class of 2020 were already on campus to begin their college experience at the Pre-Orientation programs offered through the First Year Center. Each year, these programs offer a great way for incoming students to meet fellow first-years and upper classmen who share similar interests, as well as get involved with organizations on campus. And with the general election and the WashU Presidential Debate looming, The World of Politics pre-orientation course was a natural choice for many.

“This Pre-O has been run for several years, with the mission of exposing incoming students to campus political life and learning about international, national, and local politics. Like every Pre-O, we hope to bring together like-minded students to form bonds and experience the first few days of campus life in a positive and helpful way,” says Grace Portelance, a senior economics major and an editor-in-chief at the Washington University Political Review (WUPR), WashU's premier political magazine.

Offered through a joint partnership between WUPR and the Washington University International Relations Council (WUIRC), the four-day-long pre-orientation course offered an up-close look at the preparation for WashU’s presidential debate, a simulation of a presidential campaign, and lots of conversation and dialogue with faculty and fellow students. Portelance says, “This year we were particularly excited to mold the Pre-O around the 2016 election, so we included voter registration, issue-based discussions, a tour of the future debate facilities, and talks with professors to round out our program.”

smiling student seated at a crowded tableStudents participate in a mock Model UN

Portelance and other student leaders in WUPR and WUIRC, including Isaiah Sciford, a senior international and area studies major and president of WUIRC, were responsible for hosting and planning The World of Politics pre-orientation course for the 40 participating first-years. Sciford says, “I like to joke that I never really escaped The World of Politics. I was a participant in the program as an incoming student, and I’ve been involved with it in some capacity every year since. I’m still close with many of my fellow participants from that year and count them as some of my best friends on campus.”

For Portelance, Sciford, and the other organizers, fostering dialogue and helping the new students feel more comfortable in their new home were of the utmost importance. “We hope first and foremost that every student in our program feels more comfortable, bonded, and secure on our campus than if they didn’t do the Pre-O,” says Portelance. “The ultimate point of doing these programs is to give a positive introduction to campus. Our second goal was to excite and inform the participants on how they can get involved in political life on campus, in the community, and in their academic life.”

Sciford adds, “We also felt that it was especially important to promote positive dialogue this year as things tend to get more heated as the election draws nearer. One of the things that we told our participants is that although this was ‘the political pre-o’ we wanted them to spend time getting to know each other personally, not just by their political views. It’s important to see the person through the politics.”

students at a table, discussingStudents participate in a mock Model UN

With the election coming so close to home this year, all of the students were thrilled to learn more and get the behind-the-scenes scoop on the upcoming presidential debate on campus. “Touring the debate facilities and hearing about the long history of WashU and presidential debates made us all excited for seeing what is to come this fall!” says Portelance.

Sciford found the tour eye-opening. “I honestly didn’t realize how much work went into hosting the debate. I assumed that it would be pretty crazy for the day of the debate, but not much else. After a presentation from Steve Givens, though, I realized that there is really just so much effort that goes into the debate than I ever thought.”

And from all accounts, the program was a huge success this year, impacting not just the incoming students but the organizers, as well. Portelance says, “Hearing participants’ varying passions and interests, and seeing how incredibly well informed and engaging they were on those topics, was really inspiring to me. These participants definitely disproved the stereotype that millennials are uninterested in politics.

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