The beginning is subtle.
Campus is still quiet, but suddenly there are unfamiliar faces in bare-shelved faculty offices.
The first upperclass students to return are coming and going around the dorms. Among those students are the AESOP leaders, who gather under Alumni Walk birches for training and earnest discussions.
A scavenger hunt dispatches Bobcat First! participants around the campus: “There’s the lake,” says one. “You mean the Puddle,” another responds.
These are portents of a new academic year at Bates. And on Monday, Aug. 28 — Opening Day — those subtle signs will become surging activity as the Class of 2021 moves in.
Opening Day also begins Orientation for the 510 members of the class. There’s much to learn about the college, as well as about each other, during the nine days of Orientation. But Carrie Murphey, who organizes Orientation, emphasizes that it’s not a Bobcat boot camp.
Instead, it’s a Bates sampler. The goal is to “forecast the type of experience you can expect to have at Bates,” says Murphey, assistant dean of students for first-year programs and an alumna herself, Class of 2006.
- It’s one of the sweet paradoxes of Bates that exceptional people tend to be the norm, and that’s true for the Class of 2021 too. The class includes, to name just a few, the great-grandchild of two members of the Class of 1898; a professional ballerina; the nation’s youngest certified mindfulness instructor; the founder of a project that has provided 24,000 books to 11 libraries in rural Vietnam; and a hiker who has climbed all of the peaks topping 4,000 feet in New York state’s Adirondack Mountains. That’s 46 summits.
- The new students are coming from as far away as Singapore, India, and Vietnam, and from as near as Lewiston and Auburn, which are represented by four students. In all, the new class represents 20 nations and 38 U.S. states or districts; 50 students come from Maine (and three from Hawaii).
- The biggest proportion of the new students, 44 percent, comes from New England. The Middle Atlantic is represented by 22 percent, the Southwest and West collectively by 14 percent, the Midwest by 6 percent and the Southeast by 5 percent. Nine percent come from outside the U.S.
- U.S. students of color account for 24 percent of the cohort. Thirteen percent are first generation to college, including the 34 participants in the Bobcat First! program, which aims to foster a greater sense of well-being, belonging, and self-empowerment among first-gen students.
- Tapping $32.6 million in financial aid funding, 42 percent of the class is receiving Bates grant aid. The average amount of grant aid per student in the class is $45,548.
- Fifty-two percent of the class members identify as male, 48 percent as female. By Sept. 6, the first day of classes, 378 members of the class will be 18 years old and 102 will be 19. Twenty-two will be 17 or younger, and eight will be 20 or older.
- Slightly more than half of the class, 52 percent, graduated from a public high school, vs. the 48 percent coming to Bates from independent schools.
The new students will have ample opportunity, she explains, to “start to see where they might fit in at Bates and who they might fit in with. They’ll begin to see themselves in the fabric of the community.”
She says, “Academically, the first-years will have time with their First-Year Seminar instructors,” who are also first-year advisers. Residentially, they’ll get to know classmates assigned to their first-year centers, as well as the 42 Junior Advisors who direct the centers.
And, as always, Bates’ fabled AESOP trips — the Annual Entering Student Outdoor Program — will encourage the newbies to bond with both upperclass expedition leaders and, of course, the Maine outdoors that is so important to the Bates experience.
Four days long and comprising 56 different student-run trips or programs, AESOP provides a break in the middle of Orientation. On either side of AESOP, the new kids — and their parents, at least on Opening Day — are offered programs that combine practical information with an introduction to Bates values and signature initiatives.
For instance, Junior Advisors, along with Brooks Quimby debaters and discussants from faculty and staff, will guide the first-years in an exploration of the 2017 Common Reading. This year, the new class was assigned Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, lawyer-activist Bryan Stevenson’s 2014 examination of injustice in the criminal justice system.
That’s a subject much discussed by the Bates community in recent years. “It is a heavy set of topics, and Stevenson doesn’t write about it in a way that lightens it at all,” Murphey says. “But it allows the reader to stick with it and be close to it.”
Echoing the college’s distinctive Purposeful Work initiative, a theme of the book “is getting close to the work that you do and the things that you care about,” Murphey continues.
“And it’s just such a compellingly written book about important social justice topics — race and socioeconomic class, all these things that we want students to build a foundation for talking about at Bates.
If the Common Reading has Bates looking outward, the Voices of Bates program is introspective, introducing the college to its newest members. The program debuted last year with a deeply researched interpretative performance by Anike Tourse ’92. For this year, Portland, Maine-based filmmaker Yoon Byun has created a 20-minute video comprising Bates people’s thoughts about the college and their experiences here.
“That’s themed around acknowledging that people come into Bates with all sorts of different experiences,” says Murphey, “and that the strength of our community is built on how we exchange those experiences and how we honor and understand each other’s perspectives. And that we are truly a stronger community when we do that effectively.
“The hope is that this conversation on the second night of Orientation will be among the first of countless others they’ll have, in informal and formal ways, over the course of four years, and as alumni too.”
A few hundred old (and not so old) Bates hands will be around to help the newbies settle in on Monday. The upperclass students will include 24 Orientation Week Leaders (who? OWLs) and their coordinator; 65 Junior Advisors and Residence Coordinators; and 112 AESOP trip leaders, along with six AESOP coordinators.
In addition, Murphey notes, about 35 faculty First-Year Seminar instructors will meet first-years in advising sessions, and additional faculty will take part in the Common Reading and Voices of Bates discussions. Some, she notes, will be around in part because they simply want to get a sense of the new arrivals.
Twenty-five or so Bates staff in Welcome Crew T-shirts will be ready and willing to assist students and families in all kinds of ways. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to staff hospitality on Opening Day, says Murphey.
“An incredible number of people in the college care deeply about welcoming new students and their families, and they’ll be around on Opening Day and throughout Orientation,” Murphey says — “helpful, warm, friendly, and just extending that characteristic Bates spirit.”