As the first welcome party designed to introduce students to others in their program, Sept. 13 marked a change in the Creative Writing and Literature department’s usual welcome routine.
Rather than hosting a reading by returning students, writers instead engaged in rapid-fire speed chat to introduce themselves, competed fiercely in games of Taboo, mingled over cake and jumped in a character-building exercise. In O’Shaughnessy Performance Space, members of the Student Writers Association presided over sets of mannequin heads on a pair of tables, instructing attendees to provide these blank faces with unique character traits. As the clock hands ticked closer to 7 p.m., the soft scrape of marker against Styrofoam filled the room as students added their visions of these characters to these bare crowns.
As more students filter in, attention turned to a whiteboard strategically placed between the two character tables. A scrawled green message invited attendees to share what they’d most like to see SWA accomplish this school year or even to leave any message they’d like. Emboldened by the sight of others writing away, soon students were responding to each other’s notes. One proclaimed a wish for a “sweet Glyph” this year, and another demanded that everyone attend this year’s Glyph Gala in the spring.
After a series of announcements by department chairman James Reich and the SWA officers, the attendees broke up into two groups to rotate through the night’s activities, each accompanied by a pair of teachers. Julia Goldberg and James Reich herded their half of the party into the Speed Chat room, where students got to know their partner in a two-minute lightning round of questions before switching to interrogate someone new. As well as being as icebreaker, these questions generated genuine conversations between both new and returning students. Questioning a partner about what they like to write lead to a discussion on prose poetry. A question about time-travel was met with an admiring comment for Victorian fashion as well as bemoaning the fact that women had so few rights in historical time periods.
Twenty minutes later, the students switched. In another room, Anne Valente and Matt Donovan split their half of the party into teams for a game of Taboo. Thus divided, each team wrestled with the excitement of competition and the panicked awkwardness of being tongue-tied in front of fifteen other people. Some found they are naturally gifted at rattling off clever descriptions while miraculously managing to avoid using a “taboo” word, earning their team five points in one round.
The icebreaker activities came to an end when the cakes were brought out into the Benildus lobby. The hazel cursive “Welcome” of the chocolate cake was split into pieces to be consumed by students while conversing with faculty and classmates. Over cake, students broke into groups and started up conversations of their own volition in the Benildus lobby. Within O’Shaughnessy, people lingered over the mannequins to read the offered traits. Students got specific when scribbling black Sharpie traits on each head, so that they are now more indicative of a larger personality — “painfully aware of body odors…”, “wears cardigans in neutral colours,” “never cuts toenails,” and more. Words and phrases popped against the white Styrofoam, like “favorite possession is a Ouija board,” “reckless,” “owns two pets rabbits named Sugar and Spice.” Each trait resonated with the others, creating multi-faceted personalities for these previously blank models.
While some revolved around the mannequin tables, still others chatted with new friends while devouring slices of cake. A combination of good food and a shared social experience has led to these small friendly groups, heads bent toward each other in conversation, leading anyone who watches to conclude that the new format for welcome events has been a resounding success.