A recent article doing the rounds on our favourite online place to get completely accurate and balanced information, Monash StalkerSpace, has condemned university orientation camps for creating a ‘disturbing culture’ of ‘inappropriate sexual games’ and excessive alcohol consumption. As someone who’s spent literally a month of my life (ten three day camps since 2011) helping run first year orientation camps, I thought I may have something to contribute. The Host Scheme program is the largest orientation program of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and has been running since 1974. I’ve written pieces for Lot’s Wife previously advertising what I believe to be the many benefits of Host Scheme, so feel free to look back through old issues if that’s what you’re interested in, but I’ll try and keep this brief.
The fact that Host Scheme does receive funding from essentially all Clayton students (via MSA Card purchases and the SSAF), means, in our view, that the camps and activities we run have to be appropriate for all students. ‘All students’ means all students, and if you read StalkerSpace regularly enough then you’ll probably appreciate that the Monash Clayton student population is extremely diverse. This is even more important in the situation of a camp, where students can’t leave as easily as they could an event on campus.
It’s also worth noting that the program has continuously developed over the years, and there have been plenty of between my experiences of camp as a first year in 2011 and now, in 2014, as I’m finishing my one year term as a sub-coordinator. The fact that leaders can only stay for a fixed term means that new students lead the program each year, and bring with them plenty of new ideas to ensure the program keeps evolving in a positive way. This process takes place under the supervision of a volunteer coordinator, a permanent MSA staff member who oversees Host Scheme as well as the rest of MSA volunteering.
So how do we compare to the rumours of wild first year orientation camps?
• Rooms set aside for sex?
True. All camp attendees are legal adults and we don’t feel that we can stop them from doing whatever they’re going to do. But remember what we said about having a program appropriate for all students? Some students come from a background, cultural, religious or otherwise, where seeing some of that, uh, ‘stuff’, may be extremely inappropriate, offensive or confronting. We take the view that students who are trying to sleep should have every right to without seeing or hearing anything they don’t want to. We politely ask attendees to be considerate and stay out of the dorms if they want to have ‘special friend time’. Condoms are also available in those rooms. For students who don’t want to be anywhere near that environment, same gender accommodation (or even private rooms where necessary, e.g. for religious reasons) is available in a separate building.
• Excessive alcohol consumption?
We’d be lying if we said we’ve never had students drink too much, but it is heavily policed. Students, if they wish to, can purchase their own alcohol. It is served to them by sober (meaning BAC 0.0%) volunteers with RSA training. Students are required to wear a wristband to consume alcohol, so that alcoholic consumption can be monitored and intoxicated individuals can have their wristband and drinking privileges removed. Alcohol is served at night only, and all senior volunteers are first aid trained. Drinking games aren’t permitted because they can sometimes give rise to situations where students feel pressured to drink more, and are also a pretty boring activity for non-drinkers.
• Creepy expectations and pressure around sexual activities?
A thousand times no. Volunteer leaders (‘hosts’, ‘mega hosts’ and sub-coordinators) are strictly forbidden from any fraternization with new students during the orientation period, including while on camp. Any volunteer caught breaking this rule would be sent home immediately. There is also a system in place where students can indicate if they feel uncomfortable. While we have never had to use it, anyone who doesn’t take this system seriously can also be sent home. Students at trivia are expressly told that they won’t be given any extra points for ‘stripping’ or similar. Volunteers are trained to intervene immediately if students are observed pressuring other students.
Host Scheme is an amazing program where students can meet other new students, and which provides fantastic opportunities for volunteering. It is also an inclusive program. The MOJO article pertains mainly to club run camps, however, as Host Scheme runs five camps a year, catering for up to 600 students, it’s much more likely that this will be the orientation camp which new students attend. Accordingly, we think it’s important that accurate information about how Host Scheme camps are run is available.
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