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Phoebe Chase argues that the compulsory talks for all first years are patronising and pointless. She asks how new students are to be expected to act like the adults they are, when they are treated like children.

It is the beginning of a new academic year and thousands of fresh-faced students are pouring into Bristol to start their university education. First impressions of this new life are probably varied and a little overwhelming for most. However, one event is apparently notorious among past – and now present – first years, and it is talked about long after Freshers’ Week.

Since arriving, one of the things said most frequently to new students is: ‘You are adults, so we are going to treat you like adults’. However, it is disappointing to report that, so far, this hasn’t been followed through particularly well. I am referring to the UniSmart presentation freshers sat through in Welcome Week, designed to give us innocent, fresh-faced first years some insight into the perils of university, drugs, and living semi-independently. In actual fact, what circulated my mind most of all during that hour and a half was none of these things, but actually more along the lines of ‘when can we leave?’.

‘when can we leave?’

After being awoken at 6:30am for a fire drill, my halls then had to wake up again in time to meet outside the building at 9:15 to be led to the SU building. Sitting in a large hall, hungover, at 10am, we were introduced to a pantomime ‘crazy scientist’ lady – a supposed expert in technology and part of an apparently highly advanced company specialising in smart technology.

Her pitch (all in a fake American accent) was to convince us to try these newly developed ‘smart contact lenses’ that were now in a beta testing stage, telling us that we could get some of these for free if we wanted to be part of the testing. It then transpired- shockingly- that this was all a joke, and the crowd of reluctant new students was subsequently subjected to a bizarre strip show in which the woman threw off her ‘disguise’, revealing a much younger Kiwi woman, who then spent a few minutes performing a glow in the dark poi show.

‘Clearly we are all too young and immature to sit through an actual talk outlining  important information about our lives at university’

The entire presentation continued in this bizarre vein, with attempts at comedy the entire way through. Clearly we are all too young and immature to sit through an actual talk outlining  important information about our lives at university.

Connie Weir, a fresher who also sat through the presentation, said: “I thought the information she had was important to be getting across to us, but the way she presented it was patronising and distracting and the message got lost because of that.”

The intention, I suppose, is to give new students all the information they need to prepare them for university life, in an entertaining and engaging way. The description given on the UniSmart website states that it is “Designed specifically to educate and empower new students”. Disappointingly, I feel exactly the same, except for a slight wariness of people from New Zealand.

‘[It] really only seemed to succeed in completely patronising all those watching and treating them like a student freshly entering Year 9’

What was essentially achieved was an overwhelming and very long ‘comedy’ performance with some information thrown in between sketches, that really only seemed to succeed in completely patronising all those watching and treating them like a student freshly entering Year 9. I believe that hardly any of the information – the whole point of this presentation – was even taken in.

The website claims that after watching UniSmart, students “function better [and] are more confident”, though I can safely say that there was no change in my confidence or functionality when I decided to make some tea this morning.

The issue is: how are new students to be expected to act like the adults they are, when they are treated like children? As Connie said, information that is actually very important to know when starting university and living away from home for the first time, such as the issues surrounding consent, the consequences of plagiarism and what to do when struggling or feeling depressed, was completely sidelined by the poor attempt at comedy by this poor woman bouncing around on stage. Do the organisers of this event think that students will actually enjoy this?

‘Possibly the only benefit to this event is its help in encouraging students to bond… over how awful it was’

In my opinion, this presentation is, essentially, an absolute waste of university money, time, and resources. It patronises students and does not succeed in giving them the information they need in order to do well, especially when settling in over the first weeks and adjusting to this major change in their lives. Indeed, treating students in this manner, as though this is the only way to somehow get the information across is a little insulting as well as just embarrassing. Possibly the only benefit to this event is its help in encouraging students to bond… over just how awful it was.


Disclaimer: The views presented in Comment are those of our writers and do not reflect those of Epigram or the editorial team.

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