Cultivating Culturally Competent Orientation Leaders

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New Student Orientation serves as one of the first encounter new students have with their institution. New students spend time learning about the campus and the ideals that the institution values. One of the key groups that allow for such a big event like orientation to be successful are the orientation leaders who pledge to serve their summer welcoming their new peers to campus.
Orientation leader training has certainly manifested. Many campuses create a curriculum for their orientation leaders that lasts at least one semester.  Although the training structure has transformed, many of the concepts are the same regarding their role as leaders. Orientation leaders are expected to be knowledgeable about their campus, provide a certain level of customer service to the families and students visiting, and they are expected to be successful in building community among a diverse group of students.
Today, I’d like to focus on the latter of the three: building community among a diverse group of students. To promote success in this area I have provided a list of five techniques that student affairs professionals can incorporate into their orientation leader training to cultivate culturally competent leaders.
1. Define Community
One of the main responsibilities for orientation leaders is to build community among new students. A main component of being successful in building that community is through introducing students to the already existing community at the institution. We often hire orientation leaders based on their involvement on campus. The students who are very involved are usually the ones who are asked to serve as representatives for the institution; however, the first step to providing adequate training for student leaders is to recognize that not all student experiences are the same. Therefore, it is important to provide orientation leaders with the definition of community and how your institution strives to accomplish cultivating an inclusive community on campus.
This video is a bit corny but I thought I’d share it to, at the very least, make you smile!

2. Practice Proactive Allyship
Another aspect that orientation leaders should be trained on is the practice of proactive allyship. Many universities have adopted bystander intervention training and strive to educate all students on how to assist in situations that could be potentially dangerous for their peers (i.e., overconsumption of alcohol, sexual violence, etc…). Bystander intervention does a great job in preparing students to step up and help if they see a situation that is dangerous. There is most certainly a huge need for this on our campuses; however, there is another type of training that we should be providing our students, especially, our orientation leaders to supplement bystander intervention training. Our orientation leaders’  training should include education on how to be proactive allies.
Training students to be proactive allies means to educate students on how to create environments that are inclusive of everyone. SUNY Cortland released an orientation leader video for the incoming class on tips to be successful in the classroom and in the community. Take a look if you haven’t seen it:

SUNY Cortland is not the only institution who has completed videos such as the one above but they are leading the way in welcoming incoming students in a proactive and inclusive way.
Does your institution prepare marginalized students for the experiences they may face before coming to campus (i.e, during orientation)? Does your institution make the statement that they do not tolerate bias related incidents BEFORE they happen? Are your orientation leaders instructed to provide EVERY new, incoming student with resources on LGBTQ resources, the accessibility office on your campus, or information on groups such as the Black student union, Latino/a student organization, Asian Student Association, and all the other identity based groups on campus? Can your orientation leaders speak about these groups with just as much eloquence as the campus activities board on campus?
In developing this video, SUNY Cortland made a clear statement that they do not tolerate bias related incidents on campus. They were intentional about including identities of students from marginalized backgrounds; therefore, creating an environment that tells students “we see you and we know your experiences are different.” How is your institution practicing proactive allyship? How are you training your student employees? All institutions need to have policies in place to be REACTIVE but we would be LESS REACTIVE if we were more PROACTIVE in our education.
3.  Collaborate with Equity and Inclusion Experts
An easy way to create a training that cultivates culturally competent orientation leaders is to invite the Orientation Leader Trainingexperts on your campus to do a workshop! I recognize that not all institutions have equity and inclusion offices on their campuses (which is another post for another day) but there are experts who are available to you in one of three areas: student affairs division, academic affairs, or in the community (I’ll insert a shameless plug here…please visit for workshops that can be incorporated into your orientation training curriculums!)
We can not expect our marginalized students to feel part of the community if we are not taking the steps to create a community where their needs and identities are valued. Prepare your orientation leaders by bringing in an expert to help guide them on their journey of cultural competency.
4. Incorporate Activities that Focus on Inclusivity
What does it mean to create an inclusive community? If asked, would your orientation leaders be able to to identify the benefits of creating inclusive communities? Would they be able to explain how to do cultivate these environments?
Incorporating interactive activities that focus on building inclusive communities is vital for cultivating culturally competent orientation leaders. There are TONS of activities that one could use to accomplish this goal. Instead of listing activities (since a simple google search would identify hundreds), I thought it would be more effective listing three key aspects to watch out for when choosing an activity to incorporate into your training curriculum.
Is the activity inclusive in nature? 
This is an important question to ask when choosing an activity for your training. As Vince Vaughn’s says during the movie, The Internship, if you go “on the line” you will find hundreds of activities that can facilitate inclusive community building; however, it is important to critically look at these activities to see if they themselves are inclusive.
A great example of an activity that has good intentions but falls short in being inclusive is the “Stand Up, Sit Down” activity (Stand-Up Sit-Down Exercise docx). During this activity, participants are asked to self-identify personal information about their identities by standing up. Facilitators should identify this activity as one that needs to be modified before using. Although it may seem like everyone in the room is capable of physically standing it should be adapted so that those who choose to not self-identify as being incapable of participating in this activity can still safely do so with everyone else.
We cannot advise our students to create inclusive environments if we ourselves are not able to accomplish this through the activities we ask them to participate in during the training sessions.
Who is the best facilitator to lead the activity?

Another important aspect of choosing an inclusive activity is to ensure that the facilitator is comfortable leading the activity. Using the same activity as before, the “Stand Up, Sit Down” activity can either build community or distance people from the group. A facilitator should ensure that they understand the goal of the activity and that they can guide the group smoothly throughout the experience. This tip should be used with all activities but it is especially important when facilitating activities on inclusion.

Fulfill your projected learning outcomes
As you plan an activity for your training make sure that the activity fulfills your learning outcomes. As discussed earlier, there are a TON of activities that you can choose but some will be more effective than others. A great workshop requires preparation.
5. Empower Students to Stand Up and Speak Out

The fifth step to create a culturally competent curriculum for orientation leaders is one that is worthy of distinction from the other four but can be incorporated into each of the above points. Orientation leaders are going to be responsible for creating an environment that is inclusive for all students visiting the institution. In order to ensure success in cultivating an inclusive community on campus they must feel empowered to stand up and speak out when they see acts that threaten that environment. The majority of incidents that orientation leaders will encounter with new students is non-inclusive language or bias

related remarks. An easy way to empower students to stand up and speak out is to equip them with tools to address non-inclusive language.

Incorporating tips to address non-inclusive language and bias related incidents is vital in cultivating culturally competent orientation leaders. The first step in doing this is to educate students on why these incidents occur. Then, address the fears and concerns in addressing these incidents. Lastly, provide students with the tools to address these encounters. Students who feel prepared will feel empowered to stand up and speak out!

Orientation is a monumental event in a new student’s college career. The friends and experiences they gain will stay with them for a long time (if not forever)! To the professionals who work in new student and family programs, the work you put into welcoming students and families is very much appreciated. Thank you for all that you do!

If anyone is looking for a facilitator to help train their orientation leaders, please do not hesitate to contact me! Good luck to all those who just finished orientation. The bittersweet aspect about orientation is that once one orientation ends the planning for the next begins! Stay strong!

“Stand Up, Sit Down Activity” Retrieved from:

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