The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Class of 2024 to engage in traditional first-year programming via The Sophomore Experience

The Sophomore Experience includes a “re-orientation,” Commons signature events, education about campus resources and Nashville excursions.
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Mattigan Kelly
Hank Ingram House on Commons, as photographed on Oct. 29, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly)

Vanderbilt is piloting The Sophomore Experience in Fall 2021, per an email sent to the Class of 2024 on June 28 by Assistant Provost of Residential Education and Associate Dean for Residential Colleges Jill Stratton. The program largely intends to compensate for the sophomores’ limited introduction to Vanderbilt because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

This program is designed to be informative, supportive, and, most of all, fun for every sophomore student as you transition into a brand-new year,” the email read.

Program development

While Stratton stated that there were over 900 Commons events last year, nearly 600 of which were in person, she said sophomores have still expressed feeling disconnected to Vanderbilt. Student feedback she received from being a VUceptor and a Campus Connector showed that sophomores want to get to know more people at Vanderbilt and  become more accustomed to campus resources and the greater Nashville area.

“We’re trying to build on the programming that was done on Commons,” Stratton said.

Sophomore Maya Reddy stated that she appreciated the administration’s efforts to introduce the Class of 2024 to “normal” Vanderbilt. She emphasized that she was “disoriented” during her first year at Vanderbilt and lacked connection with her classmates.

“If they do this right, it will help us to feel like part of the community,” Reddy said. “It’s very understanding of the admin and makes me feel like I’m not just a number.” 

According to Stratton, The Sophomore Experience is being curated by a team of university leaders and alumni. Besides herself, this group includes Vanessa Beasley, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of residential faculty, Melissa Gresalfi, dean of the Commons, and Barton Christmas (‘21). She also stated that an informal sophomore advisory group will be established to help plan the program, with students chosen based on demonstrated interest.

“I want student input and feedback because I think that’s really important,” Stratton said. “I’ve been informally working with some rising sophomores; I’ve actually gotten some emails from them [about the program].” 

Stratton said that The Sophomore Experience could be continued for future classes if it receives positive feedback. She added that it may act as a stepping stone for heightened upperclassman programming in future years, particularly for juniors and seniors. 

“We know and research shows that there are different needs in your first year of college, your second year and even for juniors and seniors,” Stratton said. “In the future, we may have upper-division students who have gone through The Sophomore Experience do some peer leadership [at the events].”

Sophomores will not have to pay a sophomore fee, despite the Class of 2025 paying a $908 first-year fee, per Stratton. The Class of 2024 paid an $874 first-year fee last year.  

Events

Sophomore Re-Orientation—which is only open to non-transfer students—will occur on Aug. 24 between 5 and 7 p.m. CDT on Library Lawn. A flyer attached to the email encourages Fall 2021 transfer students to attend Transfer Student Orientation instead, which partially occurs during Sophomore Re-Orientation. Sophomore transfer students are able to attend all other Sophomore Experience programming.

“It makes me feel sad and excluded to know that I may not be able to take part in some of the fun customs that characterize the Vandy experience, all because of my status as a transfer,” Grace Knor, a sophomore transfer student, said in a message to The Hustler. “It’s wonderful that they are putting in the effort to make up for missed experiences during the pandemic and it would be great if they could extend that initiative to include sophomore transfers as well!”

Per Stratton, Sophomore Re-Orientation will feature giveaways, potentially including prizes related to greater Nashville, and a Hip Hues t-shirt customization station. The Class of 2024 will also receive more information about future sophomore programming alongside live music, food trucks and the traditional class photo. Stratton said that the location of the class photo—which didn’t occur last year due to COVID-19 protocols—is currently undetermined, despite normally taking place on Commons Lawn.

“It’s a Vanderbilt tradition—we want you all to have one [a class photo],” Stratton said.

Similarly, an orientation will be held for parents and families of first-years, sophomores, 2020 transfers and 2021 transfers on Aug. 22 between 10:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. CDT in Langford Auditorium. According to Stratton, a live-stream of the orientation will also be posted on social media in advance. The flyer stated that the orientation will include a panel of students, faculty and staff who will offer information about Vanderbilt life. 

“It may be more focused toward the first-years, but the information will be helpful for sophomore families as well,” Stratton said.

The email added that each Commons house will invite their former Class of 2024 residents back for a sophomore signature event in Sept. 2021. Sophomore Jada Finley, former West House president, said in a message to The Hustler that it “warmed [her] heart” to hear she will be able to return to West House.

“I loved my West House community to the fullest extent!” Finley said. “My head of house was so remorseful that we weren’t able to carry out many of the Commons traditions of previous years, so an invitation ‘back home’ is such a kind gesture and will be well received in my opinion!”

The VU Passport Series, a social media challenge designed to educate sophomores about campus resources, will also run until the end of Fall 2021. This program will randomly award prizes to students who collect virtual “stamps” after visiting campus offices. According to Stratton, the Career Center, Office of Immersion Resources (OIR), Global Education Office of Education (GEO), Health Professions Advisory Office (HPAO) and university libraries will be some of the resources highlighted in the series.

“[Students] have a general idea of what the Career Center does, but most likely have never actually been inside the Career Center,” Stratton said. “[Students] may know what GEO offers, but because we did not have study abroad last year, students didn’t have the opportunity to talk to upper-division students because they weren’t studying abroad.”   

Another Fall 2021 program will give sophomores and faculty the opportunity to explore Nashville every other Saturday via mystery excursions in the city, per the email. Stratton explained that approximately 50 sophomores will be randomly selected to attend each excursion via AnchorLink signups, with around 300 total students having participated in the program by the end of the semester. If successful, Stratton stated that the excursions could continue into the Spring 2022 semester.

“These are going to be quintessential Nashville places for students,” Stratton said. “We hope this will be a spotlight for the many things that are happening out there.”

Stratton said that a Campus Reading Program will be launched this year as a spin on the Commons Reading. First-years, sophomores and Fall 2021 transfer students will receive a free one-year subscription to Fable and access to the Commons Reading book, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Per Stratton, sophomores will have the opportunity to attend this year’s Lawson Lecture—for which the speaker has yet to be announced—as well as tentative sophomore reading groups.

“When I received this recommendation from the committee, I was immediately struck by my own memories of reading this book. I recalled how beautiful the writing was and how the author’s courage in sharing his story made me think deeply about my own life and its purpose,” Beasley said. “This book is a wonderful, brave choice for our students.”

Per a MyVU article posted on July 13, an Inclusive Book Group centered around When Breath Becomes Air will occur virtually on Aug. 4 between 12 and 1 p.m. CDT. The Women’s Center, along with the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities and Employee Learning and Engagement are sponsoring the book group, according to the article. The Residential Colleges also announced via Instagram on July 9 that some copies of the e-book are available through Central Library. Similarly, students can sign up to receive a free copy of the book from the Women’s Center to be delivered to their Vanderbilt address. 

Additional programming for the Class of 2024 will continue through the Spring 2022 semester. A year-long sophomore dinner series will be held by Stratton and feature other university administrators, faculty, staff and coaches. Stratton stated that the dinners would be themed, and compared them to the Dean’s Dinners organized by Gresalfi.

“They will be located around campus so students can get to know some of the unique places on campus,” Stratton said. “I will host a few in the Residential Colleges along with some other fun locations.”

While The Sophomore Experience accounts for some of the first-year traditions that the Class of 2024 missed, others, like Anchor Dash and Commons Ball, have yet to be announced for first-years or sophomores. Per Stratton, the planning of these events is centered around the health and safety of those involved. 

“Even though we’re requiring vaccinations for students, faculty and staff, we’re having to be strategic about orientation events just because we don’t know the vaccination status of families,” Stratton said. “We’re reviewing all of the programs and making sure that we can do all of the traditions that are possible.” 

Stratton added that students who receive religious or medical exemptions to the campus-wide COVID-19 vaccination mandate will be expected to follow all COVID-19 guidelines if they participate in The Sophomore Experience, as with all other events.

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About the Contributors
Rachael Perrotta
Rachael Perrotta, Former Editor-in-Chief
Rachael Perrotta ('24) is from Cranston, R.I., and is majoring in cognitive studies, communication of science and technology and political science in Peabody College. She was previously Senior Advisor and News Editor. If she's not pressing you for a comment, she's probably trying to convince you that she's over 5 feet tall, cheering on the Red Sox or wishing Nashville had a beach. She can be reached at [email protected].
Mattigan Kelly
Mattigan Kelly, Former Deputy Multimedia Director
Mattigan Kelly ('22) was Deputy Multimedia Director for The Vanderbilt Hustler. She has been on the staff since her freshman year. Mattigan majored in chemical engineering in the School for Engineering. In addition to shooting for The Hustler, she was the Development Coordinator for Camp Kesem at Vanderbilt, works in a research lab on campus and plays Club Tennis.
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