For many first-years, the day acceptances arrived was marked by excitement and eagerness for something new. As students looked through the cream-colored folders and learned more about the school they would eventually attend, many wanted to see the more personal side of Whitman: the people with whom they would be sharing their four years. The Whitman College Class of 2016 Facebook page is where hundreds of incoming students ended up, learning more about the school and each other.
Joining the Facebook page meant something––joining a forum of future classmates and friends, and for some, literally joining the Whitman class of 2016. Questions were answered, connections were made and introductions began months before the first-years would be together as a class.
For some students, joining the page and communicating with students online was a comfort before starting school.
“It’s made things so much better, especially as someone coming in from the east coast,” said first-year Kevin Gardner, an active contributor to the page. “It broke the ice before the ice needed to be broken.”
Although many students shared these sentiments, some chose to observe.
“I was thankful people posted questions I was too afraid to ask,” said first-year Natalie Lyons-Cohen. “It was intimidating at first, knowing that these people were the ones I would spend four years with.”
Though the page obviously had positive effects, its existence seemed rather unnecessary to some. Garnering ideas about people you will know for four years months before you meet them seemed to be a tool to create preconceptions. With students making countless introductions in the first weeks of school, recognizing a name from the page could seem awkward.
“It’s funny to meet people and recognize their names from their posts,” said first-year Catherine Bayer.
Many first-years didn’t know of the page’s existence until recently. Still, that hasn’t hindered their experiences.
“I didn’t join until a few weeks ago,” said Bayer. “I wanted to get to know people the right way, and I’ve been able to do that now.”
As the few weeks have gone by, pre-Whitman interaction on the page has not gone unnoticed.
“Coming in, I know all these people,” said Gardner. “I don’t think it’s awkward, but it’s definitely interesting.”
Meeting the class in person as opposed to talking online has taught others the importance of building personal connections.
“It’s impossible to be completely yourself on the internet. You may know random details about their lives, but you don’t know who they genuinely are,” said Lyons-Cohen.
The page also served a key role from an admissions point of view, as bonds formed prior to school starting.
“The page began building the community before students stepped on campus,” said Dean of Admission Tony Cabasco.
“It helps ease the transition to Whitman, answering questions and easing some of the anxiety that first-year students can have,” said Robert Street, assistant director of admission and the page administrator.
Throughout the year, students put the page to a variety of uses, offering everything from inquiries (“Does anyone know what the inside of Anderson actually looks like?”) to sage advice (“Ordering all your Encounters books is kind of a huge pain, so you might want to start now”). Questions often yielded dozens of answers from returning students, making first-years feel prepared and comfortable by asking in an informal setting.
Even now, the page is as active as ever, whether it’s a Two-Wester offended at a Three-Wester’s fantastic portrayal of their lively section at dinner, or people posting events that students can now actually go to. And how else would the Class of 2016 have seen first-year Ben Ames as a child star?
Students, whether they were active on the page or didn’t even know it existed, still can say that they’ve gotten through these first weeks. Though many students valued the Facebook page to gain a level of comfort with Whitman, first-years are now ready to get involved and make connections.
“The page made me excited, but that can’t compare to everything we’re doing and starting now,” said Gardner.