First Night returns to campus with focus on student groups

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Contributing Photo Editor
Students gathered in Kogan Plaza for GW’s First Night activities. The event was moved to Foggy Bottom after two years at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate.

On Saturday night, Kogan Plaza was filled with incoming freshman dancing to Rihanna and Calvin Harris, playing cornhole and watching the latest X-Men movie.

For the first time in two years First Night, the annual event for incoming students, was held on campus, moving back from a brief stint on the Mount Vernon Estate. Officials said they moved the late-August staple back to campus to help new students acclimate to GW, and experts said on-campus events establish the tone for students’ future experiences.

In 2014, officials moved First Night to the Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia to connect students to GW’s namesake. The event, which was funded through donations, featured ice breakers for students, speeches on the history of the estate and an address from the University’s chief academic officer.

Tim Miller, the associate dean of students, said that each year the University reviews student responses about First Night to gauge which experiences are most beneficial in making students feel comfortable in their new environment.

“We changed our plans for First Night this year to support students in getting acclimated to campus a little more easily on move-in day,” Miller said.

Miller said he and other officials felt that it would be more appropriate for students to spend time at the Mount Vernon Estate later in the semester, rather than during their first day on campus. GW will continue to host programs on the estate, including a leadership conference later this fall, he added.

The event’s move back to campus was also part of larger changes to Welcome Week, which will give student groups the chance to connect with potential members sooner. Two additional student performances were added to the week’s schedule this year.

During First Night, performance groups like GW Tango and GW Sirens performed as dozens of students walked through the basement of the newly opened District House, grabbing free snacks from the tables of the building’s incoming vendors, like Chik-Fil-A and Peet’s Coffee & Tea.

In past years, student groups performed later in the week, giving them only one chance to publicly show off their skills to new students after the performances held during Colonial Inauguration.

Priya Seetharaman, the captain of GW Raas, said moving First Night back to campus helps represent GW student life more accurately to new students.

“Since First Night is now hosted on campus rather than one the Mount Vernon Estate, we believe that more freshman will be motivated to attend this event,” Seetharaman said in an email.

Student Association President Erika Feinman said new students should feel more at ease on their first night after experiencing student life and being exposed to potential student organizations to join.

Feinman and SA Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno participated in First Night, handing out concessions by the movie screening in Kogan Plaza.

“It is a really great opportunity for the entire campus to come together and kick off the year in a really fun and positive way,” Feinman said. “It is important for student organizations to engage, especially with incoming student populations, at every opportunity they have.”

Leaders at other universities said they host their first-week events on their campuses to help new students feel more comfortable at the place where they will their undergraduate years.

Carren Martin, the director for the Center for the First-Year Experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said introductory programs should reflect the experience students will have during their times at an institution.

“One of the things really important to student transition is engaging with their new physical environment,” Martin said. “That way they feel more comfortable with that and then they’re able to not be stressed about that and focus on academics or other important things.”

Jimmy Francis, director of the student recreation center at California State University, said students have more successful college experiences when they create strong connections on campus from the beginning.

“The more students engage on campus and the more they engage through groups or other means, the more likely they are to succeed and to persist from one year to the next,” Francis said. “Welcome week activities are good to help freshmen engage and to help them feel more involved.”

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