For McGill’s first-year students, Frosh week marks the beginning of a vibrant social life on campus. In the face of a global pandemic, Frosh leaders and coordinators attempted to give new students a taste of the Frosh experience from the confines of the same bedroom in which their classes began merely a week afterwards.
Despite the absence of drinking events, which many students place at the center of their Frosh experience, many positives emerged from these rather unimagined circumstances. Because Frosh was online, hoards of intoxicated students that defined prior orientations no longer disrupted the residents of the Milton Parc neighbourhood. Virtual Frosh 2020 received a mixed reception from students but it hinted at a future where fun activities can take place without the numerous issues plaguing Froshes of years past. Due to the pandemic, the underlying theme this year inadvertently shifted from unhinged partying in past Faculty Froshes to emulating the McGill and Montreal community for every student no matter their location. While the virtual components of Frosh 2020 lacked excitement, future orientations should draw inspiration from these unintended consequences and model themselves on a greater emphasis on showcasing Montreal and avoiding contributing to McGill’s disruptive drinking culture.
Unsurprisingly, the vision orientation leaders held for Frosh 2020 did not come to fruition. Satirically mocked for its attempt to be anywhere as enticing as a normal Frosh, the main “attractions” consisted of scavenger hunts, escape rooms, and a virtual dance party. Granted, many students acknowledged that, with the limited resources available to the leaders, many of the activities proved to be more enjoyable than expected. However, low participation and attendance at the events frequently nullified that. The blame should not fall on the leaders, as they were faced with froshies whose low expectations of the virtual events caused them to give up from the beginning. Still, the various attempts to showcase Montreal felt artificial to students unable to travel to campus this fall.
Frosh is notorious for being a huge disturbance to members of the Milton-Parc community. Before the pandemic, under the pressure from Milton-Parc community members, Frosh coordinators started to take steps to better respect the community surrounding McGill. Nonetheless, disturbances persisted, and it was only a pandemic that brought an unusual quietness to the surrounding area. Continuing to implement community awareness programs whenever it is safe for the in-person events to return must be a priority. Considering that thousands of students attend the event each year, future Frosh organizers should continue to address ramifications on the surrounding community.
Perhaps future coordinators should incorporate the unique ways in which Frosh 2020 showcased the neighbourhood. This could be achieved through familiarizing students with the neighborhood beforehand and working with local community members to inform students on how to better respect their surrounding area. One major obstacle to these initiatives, however, remains the competitive nature of McGill’s drinking culture, which induces disruptive behavior.
While Frosh does not have to be completely dry, an effort needs to be made to curb the excess alcohol consumption. Not only is it damaging to the surrounding community, but it also feeds into a toxic social environment on campus. In essence, Frosh sets the tone for a social scene dominated by over-consumption. Many still argue, however, that drinking can be conducted in a responsible manner, especially under the supervision of leaders and coordinators. By continuing to expand upon the training protocols for both students and leaders, the negative impacts of Frosh may be in part alleviated. This approach is not without precedent and has been successful at ensuring a safe and fun environment for everyone involved.
It would be foolish to assert that the virtual Frosh came close to replicating the same experience as in-person Frosh. But the unintended consequences of COVID-19 has spared much of the McGill and Montreal community from damage that occurs in a typical year, which should serve as a reflection on how to create events that better serve both students and residents alike.