Editor’s note: This article includes a discussion of sexual violence education.

Like clockwork, the arrival of a new class of freshmen signals the influx of commentary on the freshman experience, each with their own concise one-word conclusions. Anxiety. Excitement. Opportunity. Imposter syndrome. There is a lot of truth in all of this. But, as a freshman myself, I’d like to offer my own one-word conclusion: the freshman experience is defined by expectations.

There are, of course, the most obvious expectations. Your parents expect you to get enough sleep, your friends at home expect you to party a lot, and your uncle expects you to face the rainy weather (he still thinks you’re studying in Seattle ).

But, despite parents’ geographic difficulties, setting the expectations of 1,800 otherwise utterly naïve undergraduates is ultimately a job for the administration. During Bear Beginnings, freshmen go through a variety of programs to acclimate them to life on campus, whether through WUSA groups or lectures. Perhaps the most subtle way the administration communicates the expectations of first-year students is by handing out brochures. “Subtle” is, of course, a misnomer. Over the course of a week, I gathered enough brochures to fill the entire paper bag I received for the explicit purpose of storing brochures, and even then I was left with a few brochures missing.

I am not alone in this case either. During the last days of Bear Beginnings, the Center for Relationships and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) hosted its own program: a student-led play called “The Date”, designed to teach the fundamentals of consent , relationship violence and mental health issues. The show is RSVP’s flagship program, and for good reason. Directed, performed and written by college students, “The Date” is the kind of play that can make the football player sitting next to me laugh, invest a group of utterly cynical 18-year-olds with the dramatic tension of a romance. , ask half the room to snap their fingers in a precise line, then silence them all with a moment of serious introspection. Halfway through the play, one of the characters, in a moment of crisis, recruits his friend to gather information about mental health services at the University. The friend leaves the scene and returns with a bag.

A bag full of brochures.

During the few minutes that follow, the two actors recite, word for word, the descriptions of the various services as they are written on their brochures. The tongue-in-cheek delivery of this blatant infomercial elicits a wave of laughter from the audience.

If the crowd reaction was any indication, it’s one of those jokes that’s only funny because it’s true: There’s always been a tension between creating services that put students’ needs first and then marketing them in such a bland, detached way. However, if we are to criticize student services for not being in touch with students, we must admit that the criticism goes both ways. I certainly couldn’t rightly say that I had taken the time to get to know the RSVP center well.

I decided to change that.

The RSVP center is, from personal experience, difficult to get to, located on the fourth floor of Rye Hall. So, as the elevator rushed upward on a late Friday afternoon, I stood alone, staring at my distorted reflection in the metal walls. Upon entering the room, I was immediately greeted by wooden panels containing crisp, well-lit photographs of smiling actors, like in a pharmaceutical commercial. And, right at the front desk, was a stack of brochures.

The highly professional brilliance of the Centre, however, belies a more complex story. Like “The Date”, RSVP owes its origins to student activism. Its specialists coordinate with dedicated undergraduate volunteers to facilitate “The Date,” promote sexual health, work with community leaders, and distribute educational materials as part of an extensive Center-led awareness campaign. The Center also provides therapy and counseling services and is an invaluable resource for survivors and interested students.

It is a testament to the passion and commitment of RSVP Specialists that they took the time to interview about their work during the down time between meetings (i.e. their real work). And yet, despite everything, as I sat in on the interview, I couldn’t help but feel that everything I heard seemed to come verbatim from a brochure.

Frankly, this phenomenon is not limited to RSVP – rather, it defines how we talk about sexual violence on this campus. Why does the University new policies regarding the erasure of sexual misconduct from student records have been defined with vague and unclear bureaucratic language that unnecessarily equates the seriousness of sexual misconduct with drug possession? Why, in the wake of the infamous red zone, did a Title IX Office representative propose a analysis as banal as the “borders” of the pupils [being] tested”?

The truth is that a detached and professional tone is expected of our institutions, and it is an expectation that limits how organizations can act and the ways students can interact with them. We are simply unable to imagine the possibility of having open and clear conversations. This is the most frustrating part of the problem – we could so easily strengthen the relationship between the administration and the students it ostensibly serves. We just choose not to. And yet, everywhere, the school has never ceased to reinforce this harmful expectation.

Stuffy language and jargon-filled paragraphs are a standard feature of all administrative resources, not just brochures. From embarrassingly marketing-laden websites to contrived allusions to a commitment to diversity, the expectation that we students should treat administration as an external and distant entity is very quickly and clearly communicated to us freshmen. . Is it any wonder we treat brochures like punchlines?

Rather, the manufactured separation between the student body and the administration is what shields the administration from the full repercussions of its worst decisions. Every baffling policy decision is turned into an act of God, with every writer in student life an unhappy oracle combing through layers of dense, unreadable text to craft their own interpretations, which are then confined to the pages of this journal. Is this really what constitutes an open and clear dialogue?

The truth, of course, is that a clearer statement would be easily dismissed out of hand. Thus, the school voluntarily engaged in a policy of obscurantism, hiding power not by making it invisible but by making it impenetrable.

Just as I have no doubt that the writers of “The Date” don’t disdain student services, I don’t intend to specifically criticize the RSVP Center or the Title IX Office. They simply illustrate the contradictions inherent in the simultaneous coexistence of stifling professionalism and serious communication. Yes, their work is commendable. But it’s a commendable job done despite a campus culture that expects to ignore the exact kind of language used by these organizations. Isn’t it a sign of desperation that organizations, with the full force of administrative support, must treat talking to students as “awareness,” as if it were a battle hard ? Rather, this uphill battle is one we willingly inflict on the RSVP center, solely because of our shattered expectations of what a student-administration relationship should look like.

Every freshman I spoke to told me that “The Date” was a unique and special experience. That’s not exactly hard data, although the RSVP center rightly deserves praise for its work. But I have bigger ambitions. We need to work toward a time when “The Date” is no longer something special or groundbreaking, when policies no longer require long columns of interpretative information, when our administrators feel they can speak honestly and candidly with us, and where joking about the brochures isn’t funny anymore.

What does that mean? This means that we must no longer tolerate administrative silence when key issues are raised. This means that a good policy must also be a clear policy. This means that we should denounce sugar coatings and equivocations wherever we see them. This means supporting crucial organizations, such as the RSVP Center, not only through student engagement, but through actively restructuring their relationships with the student body.

So when the class of 2027 arrives at Bear Beginnings with their own naive expectations, when the concise one-word conclusions start to trickle in, and the various organizations on campus revamp their brochures, I have just one request:

Keep your paper.