Orientation Mimics Reality TV

  • July 23, 2005

HAYWARD - A group of freshmen wait in the courtyard of the dorm, hands in their pockets, while others with sleeping bags and backpacks check in. They stare ahead or at the ground. No one says much.

Perhaps sensing the awkwardness, Cat Kohs puts her check-in duties on hold and at tempts a brief intervention. "Did you mingle? Did you meet people?" she asks, prompting a limited response.

Before long, everyone has a name tag with the Napoleon Dynamite-inspired name of their "tribe," the Ligers. They've said goodbye to their parents, met their roommates and checked out their suites.

Freshman orientation at California State University, East Bay, is under way.

Kohs jumps onto a ledge. She delivers a pronouncement, tinged with a warning: "Oh, my God, we have the best group. Just so you know, people are bitter toward Ligers because we're better than everybody."

Ronald Gunawan is up next, leading the freshmen in a chant about the ferocity of their tribe. "I want you guys to be loud - as loud as you can, man."

Orientation, an event typically associated with dull information sessions and painful icebreakers, has taken on a new dimension at Cal State East Bay. The main coordinators of the two-day event, Janice Frias and Chris Almeida, wanted it to be different.

So did the 70-plus student-leaders, who run the four summer sessions with an enthusiasm that would floor a camp counselor. Hence the survivor slant.

"We're going for four straight wins," Alfred Lopez said with bravado, as he stood on the third floor of the Pioneer Heights dorm, looking over the balcony at his team.

Lopez, a senior who admittedly watches too much reality TV, claims that the other two teams had forged an alliance against the Ligers, which was recorded on tape.

For freshmen of all tribes, the next two days would be filled with chanting and cheering, challenges and points, skits and presentations - and loads of information about academics, clubs and support programs. A dance was planned for Friday night.

"You guys are kind of like your own TV show," Frias told the 180 incoming freshmen in the auditorium, as she informed them that the winner of the most points would get a prize the next day.

The freshmen rose to the challenge, whipping their teams' T-shirts in the air and dancing from their seats as their leaders performed on stage. One group dutifully waddled like chickens and stalked like dinosaurs during an icebreaker on campus.

"I knew there was going to be some kind of excitement, but not this much," said Timothy Powe, of Oakland. Although his college life wouldn't begin for another two months, Powe said it was helpful to have a glimpse of it. "It really eases my nervousness," he said.

Powe was not the only one who showed up Friday morning with at least a small amount of anxiety. "Oh, my God, I didn't even want to get out of the car this morning," said Laneesha Farr of El Cerrito.

"It was scary at first," she said. "You really don't know anyone. I was worried about the whole dorm thing - whether I would like the people I was staying with, whether they would like me."

As Farr spoke, she sat in a classroom beside Jamie Donohue of Temecula and Ashley Gaskins of Hayward - her roommates for the weekend.

During the last hour, the young women had laughed and talked about books, music and dating over boxed lunches in the shade.

"I love it here," Farr said. "This is perfect."


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