Graphic by Kate McIntyre

Due to recent concerns that this past Week of Welcome (WOW) program was associated with an increase in alcohol consumption, citations and arrests, Vice President of Student Affairs Cornel Morton, who has been at Cal Poly for seven years, said the week before school this year was the worst in terms of alcohol use that he has seen. Morton is part of a committee recently formed to propose changes to WOW and the other orientation programs, some of which include a yearlong message campaign about the effects of alcohol abuse, notifying parents of underage drinking, keeping most returning students from moving on-campus during WOW and shortening WOW to three and a half days.

Morton wants to clarify that WOW is not responsible for the incidents that occurred during the week before school. In fact, WOW educates participants about alcohol abuse, encourages responsible community involvement and promotes drug-free activities, he said.

“WOW is not a bastion for alcohol abuse.”

Director of Student Life & Leadership Ken Barclay agreed, saying that WOW has a community service component, awareness programs and team building that mean a high retention rate of students returning for sophomore year.

“They also provide students with a big support group,” he said. “Many times it lasts throughout their years at Cal Poly.”

He added that they evaluate WOW and the other orientation programs annually, so having to make changes is not new.

Parental notification is another strategy being considered, not only during WOW but for the entire year, Morton said. It is permissible to notify parents when their underage student receives an alcohol violation under the 1998 Higher Education Act. Students will be told that their parents are being mailed a letter. The letter is not a judicial, simply a note of concern, Morton said.

Business junior Greg Hinchman said students should deal with legal consequences of alcohol and drug use on their own.

“Most of these kids are 18, so they (the school) should leave it up to the kid to tell their parent, because they’ll probably have to anyway,” he said.

This year, freshmen were on-campus 11 days before classes began. Barclay said they’re looking at how to best deliver the orientation programs next year without having so much time between move-in day and the start of classes.

“I think it’s a long time to be up here before classes begin; I think it’s problematic,” he said.

The three summer orientation programs, Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR), Fall Launch and WOW will be scheduled closer together and all three will address alcohol and abuse.

This September saw the first Fall Launch, a program hosted by University Housing Saturday to Monday to establish a community dynamic, educate students about Cal Poly’s Learning Objectives and on-campus resources and connect students and faculty.

Ninety-eight percent of the freshman class (3,815 students) participated in Fall Launch Class of 2013. Of those, 1,263 took a survey after the program concluded. The results were positive, Associate Director of Housing Carol Schaffer said. The survey said that an overwhelming majority of participants were more familiar with the campus and felt connected to Cal Poly (95 percent) and met people they felt comfortable hanging out with (96 percent) and understood community expectations of making choices that are mature, responsible and respectful (97 percent).

The program was successful in helping students learn community standards and offering drug-free activities that set the standard for the year. It also helped students establish a support structure, Schaffer said.

“The ability to meet with students and have their attention for those first days to build community roommate to roommate, floor to floor and building to building, what I saw by Sunday afternoon was impressive,” she said.

The decrease in community standards violations from 2008 to 2009 indicated a 25 percent decrease; there was also an 83 percent decrease in housing license revocations.

In addition, this year returning students were allowed to move into on-campus housing a week before the start of school, but Morton said that University Housing is considering letting only certain students like orientation leaders, athletes, student volunteers and employees move in that early next year.

WOW already addresses alcohol abuse and consequences, but Andrene Kaiwi-Lenting, assistant director of Student Life & Leadership, said the program is making changes for next fall, including shortening the program from the usual five days to three and a half days next fall.

“WOW is resolving what it can … You will see significant changes, but it won’t be foolproof,” she said.

Psychology sophomore Geneva Licht said WOW shouldn’t be associated with alcohol consumption. It’s normal for freshmen to want to go out when they get to college; people off campus are facilitating the issue of alcohol consumption with a ‘WOWies are welcome’ attitude. The program tries to counteract the issue by keeping students late at night, but it can’t do much more, she said.

“I think the WOW program does all it can,” she said.

Kinesiology junior Chad Crockett added that returning students come back early because they know it’s a big party time, but there isn’t a feasible way to prevent that.

“It’s a large contribution, but it’s out of anybody’s hands, including WOW,” he said.

Kaiwi-Lenting said that WOW already offers freshmen opportunities to have drug-free fun with activities on-campus and in the local community from early in the morning to late at night, but it can’t and won’t babysit participants, she said.

“I don’t think it’s WOW’s responsibility to keep people off the streets, but it is to give them options,” Kaiwi-Lenting said.

Recreation, parks and tourism administration junior and 2009 WOW leader Ryan Swearingen, said he talked about alcohol with his WOWies and advised them not to drink, but knows that students will choose to drink anyway.

“Knowing that some students will still choose to drink alcohol, no matter how much you encourage otherwise, I advised my WOWies that above all, they need to be responsible,” he said. “They need to think about how their choices can affect them, and how they can affect other people as well.”

Swearingen does not like the idea of shortening WOW to three and a half days. Some of the main purposes of WOW are to meet new people, establish friendships and connections, become familiar with the campus and community and become aware of issues students face everyday as a college community. All of these things are critical to student success, he said.

“Shortening WOW in order to limit the opportunities for freshmen to drink/party/get into trouble is a great idea at first glance,” he said. “But before we jump into this, look at other schools. These kinds of problems happen everywhere, whether it is during the weekends before school starts or during the first weeks of classes. Before we decide to shorten WOW, we need to remember how much good WOW does, and look at how shortening WOW could influence that.”

The committee includes representatives from Student Affairs, University Housing, Student Life and Leadership, Campus Dining, University Police Department, San Luis Obispo Police Department and the Health Center. They are meeting weekly with hopes of presenting a plan to President Warren Baker and Provost Robert Koob early November.

Join the Conversation


  1. I dare say you meant fool-proof rather than full-proof. I don’t think that WOW should be shortened. It’s a unique and beneficial part of the Cal Poly experience. I do think that cracking down on partying and underage drinking during that week may help a great deal. We could try to make it clear that the community and the school will not tolerate that kind of disrespect and irresponsibility.

  2. 3 and a half days for WoW next year? That’s a dumb idea, the entire purpose of WoW is to get to know people, like the article says.

    Plus, it’s not like it’s going to drastically reduce the amount of drinking. Just bad ideas overall from the college.

  3. This is one of the saddest things I have heard yet about the issues that surrounded the start of school. I was a WOWie participant my freshman year and a WOW leader this past year. Wow was the greatest transition tool when moving to Cal Poly and away from home. Having a week to get one right into the school community and environment was the best thing that happened to me. I found my best friends, current roommate, and a support group that has helped me through many tough times this past year and a half. As a leader, my group and I discussed the issues of drinking and how it can easily get out of hand. Because of wow, my wowies had a confidential and safe environment which they could voice their concerns and experiences that they have never been able to discuss before. These discussions, mostly occurring after Awareness presentations WOW Team and Board present, brought up many issues that hit home, which was at first difficult to handle, but through these discussions, they were able to seek help and obtain relief from their troubles. They did not need to go drink to feel this relief. They were able to talk to my partner orientation leader and I to help them out. This is the purpose of wow; to help out incoming freshman in any way possible. It takes time to gain the trust that is required for this type of communication to occur, and three and a half days is just not enough. It would no longer be a week of bonding, sharing stories, learning about the campus and community, and making life long friends. None of these important aspects of transitioning can happen in the TOW- "Three and a half days of Welcome". WOW is Week of Welcome for a reason and it needs to stay that way.

  4. Well, if my last 12 months at Poly have taught me anything, it is that the decision makers on this campus will time and time again fail to stand up for the best interests of their students. When I leave here, I wont look back. Not because of some silly ego. I wont look back because I am afraid of what I might see, what this campus is destined to become.

    So to the inhabitants of building 001, please find the courage to stand up for your students.

  5. Shortening WOW is a step in the wrong direction. Aside from introducing WOWies to Cal Poly and the SLO community, WOW puts the students through four great awareness workshops on topics including personal responsibilities and SLO life/respect. By shortening the program, more of the week’s focus would be on these presentations and less on the group bonding aspect. This would promote a more negative experience for the WOWies during the week, discourage them from participating with their groups, and then they would probably turn elsewhere for before-school activities. Downsizing one of the greatest orientation programs in the nation is not the path we need to travel. Instead, a more focused attack on poisonous groups who have tainted this week should be tried, eliminating the problem at the source.

  6. This is the absolute worst thing that the administration could do to the wow program. Giving leaders less time will forfeit wow’s effectiveness. This is equivalent to the first blow in the killing of the wow program. Congratulations Cal Poly, you are ruining your program.

  7. The administration needs to take a more proactive approach to the problem of alcohol consumption. Instead of simply reacting to the situation and gutting WOW because of its proximity to the problem, they need to focus on the excessive-drinking culture that has developed. Changing WOW won’t get rid of the problem.

    Aside from that, WOW has been a unique and powerful program to thousands of people, including myself. It saddens me that it is being compromised because of the actions of a small number of individuals.

    WOW is not without its own faults, though. WOW leaders currently invite their WOWies to reunions that are basically just alcohol-based parties.

    I understand that parties are a means of social interaction between students, but I urge former WOW leaders to refrain from inviting their WOWies to parties. One of the main objectives of WOW is to teach students that they can have fun without alcohol and drugs, and even though the week is over, it is awfully hypocritical to invite them to parties, not to mention detrimental to this program that so many have invested their time and passion into.

    I feel that this issue of enabling among WOW leaders is an issue the WOW program has been ignorant to. I urge WOW Board and others in charge to pay more attention to this.

    That being said, the real issues lies with the off-campus students, fraternities especially, who encourage WOWies to attend parties where they get dangerously intoxicated. The bracelets are a pass to get free alcohol. Older students sometimes get a hold of bracelets just to get free booze.

    What we need is not just a different mind set of the incoming freshmen, but a fundamental shift in the way off-campus students view and interact with WOW.

    There cannot be the mentality of week-long partying any longer.

  8. While I wasn’t a WOW leader this year, I was one last year and a WOWie the year before that. WOW is one of the defining characteristics of Cal Poly that make it great. I remember hearing at SOAR and during tours from our fantastic Poly Reps about this fabulous program that was the largest volunteer orientation program in the nation. But what will become of it now?

    There will also be new students that go out during WOW; however, the far majority of those out during WOW are not freshman, but upperclassman not participating in WOW. They are excited to get back to Poly, see friends, and have a good time without any worries of upcoming assignments or assessments. I would like to see the statistics of those hospitalizations from during WOW and see just how many were actually freshmen.

    If WOW is shortened, we will have MORE problems. I highly doubt any non-WOW programs set forth by the school will be able to compare to the amount of turn-out there is to WOW-scheduled programs. What will be the replacement of WOW? How would it be better? Are students just not going to get to campus until the Wednesday or Thursday before school starts? I doubt that any school-run programs will be able to occupy students any more efficiently than WOW.

    Another point is that the spirit of WOW is lost. Any OL would know that at 3 1/2 days, many WOWies are just finally starting to open up and ready to get the most out of WOW. But, instead we end it at that point, stifling any sort of growth and unity within the WOW groups.

    Once again, Cal Poly knee-jerk reaction to “fix” the problem will most likely result in more problems than it began with. I am ashamed of you, Cal Poly Administration.

  9. Mixing on-campus activity, like WOW, with off-campus activity like frat parties with free alcohol for WOWies is detrimental to both the best orientation program in the U.S. and to one of the best polytechnic universities in existence. What administrators need to realize is that they did a phenomenal job this year with the awareness presentations, and kept a lot of freshmen interested in college without alcohol. The fraternities need to be talked to, and not encourage free alcohol to people with the “purple bracelet.” They have their own week to draw attention to themselves during Rush, and need to stay separate from WOW. Frats, however are not the only ones to blame, for the students living in a house off-campus also must be monitored for such things.
    Perhaps the community as a whole needs to gather and suggest ways to keep the prestigious name that Cal Poly and SLO carries with it, not to be tainted by another case of a few people who make bad choices, affecting the population. This world has seen enough blame for a single act, and administrators must weed-out the bad seeds (we are an agricultural school, after all).

  10. This argument shows a clear oversimplification of the problem at hand — there are of course more factors contributing to alcohol abuse during WOW week than the fact that it is a week long. Also, a post hoc fallacy. Assuming that because WOW lasts for one week, it leads to more partying. However this may not necessarily be the case.

  11. It’s clear to me that the Administration has truly capitulated to the pressure from the community and lost sight of what is best for its students.
    Whether there is WoW or not, the week before school will always be a party week.
    The longer I live here, the worst this administration and town have gotten. Cal Poly states that their biggest mission is to be a welcoming environment for bright students to get a great education. Well right now, I would not recommend this school to anybody I know, because we have an administration that refuses to stand up for Student Rights and is on a slippery slope to what will eventually kill all Cal Poly culture and ruin the experience for everyone.

  12. Here’s a bright idea, why doesn’t the police actually enforce the so-called social host ordinances or noise ordinances during this weekend or at all? Cruise down hathaway on a friday or saturday night and you will see underage drinking and loud parties, this is a blatantly obviously violation of the law and the police do little to stop it. until this happens, the alcohol problem will nto be solved

  13. WOW is the most pivotal part of freshman year. It it the one thing that binds all the freshman together on campus. I have very fond memories of WOW and not because of the partying during week of WOW, but because I met some amazing people in my WOW group who have been my closest friends during trying times here at school. To try and squeeze WOW into three days will not only make it a waste but the entire experience will be gone. No one will get to know each other which is the entire point of having WOW. The freshman will merely be little fish in an ocean of upperclassman who have bonded together during WOW and over their past years at Poly. I’m sad to see that this is what the administration deems appropriate in light of the alcohol usage and I’m sure this is also due in some way to budget cuts.

  14. First of all, WOW is one of the greatest programs we have at Cal Poly. Shortening the week to 3 1/2 days will NOT have enough of an impact on underage drinking to compensate for the loss of 2 1/2 days of bonding, assimilation into the San Luis Obispo community, and other things that are part of the WOW program. Those who write articles or talk about how Cal Poly’s WOW is the cause of the rise in underage drinking are completely oversimplifying the problem. Cal Poly is not the only school in San Luis Obispo. Cuesta and the local high school have students who are just as responsible for the increase in illegal drinking as any Cal Poly student.

  15. It doesn’t matter how many alcohol awareness programs are initiated, whether online or in person. Teen drinking is always going to happen. Shortening WOW Week not only fails to solve this problem, but punishes the hundreds of students who don’t make alcohol consumption a part of their daily life.




  17. WOW is one of the best bonding programs on campus. Not only do students learn to bond with one another, they are informed on all the topics such as SLO life and respect awareness presentations that is provided by the WOW board. Week of welcome is the time where incoming freshman are able to bond and make life long friends with the people they meet on campus. Not only does WOW help these students with their transition into college, fellow WOW leaders, E-staff, and Board create activities that show these incoming freshman that there are other ways to enjoy life. Wow suggests alternative activities that students can participate in besides drinking. By shortening this week, students lose out on the time they could spend, really getting to know their fellow classmates and community. Shortening the week is not the solution to the drinking problem. Stopping parties that go on during the week is. Wow should not be at fault, or be punished because it stands against drinking. Wow leaders are trained to show wowies that the week is full of activities that dont involve drinking. That is one of the big goals that Wow teaches us. Attacking the program that supports healthy alternatives, is just wrong.

  18. My prediction is that making WOW week shorter will not do anything to decrease the drinking and partying going on. Students do these things at colleges everywhere. WOW should not be blamed for a few people’s poor decisions. People would still do this whether WOW existed or not. It’s unfortunate that WOW had to be shortened.
    I recently participated in WOW and my WOW group took about three days just to get to know each other and really feel comfortable towards each other and actually feel like we were becoming friends. You can’t get to know people very well in three days.
    Many times, the students who went out and partied were not the ones participating in WOW. An example is two girls who were in my group. They participated in the activities for the first two days, then decided they were “two cool” and just stopped doing things with our group. I know for a fact that these girls went out, partied, got drunk, and showed up hung over. The kids who actually did participate in WOW were very tired by the end of the day. Everyone just wanted to go to sleep, not go out and party. It’s unfair to the incoming freshman class to be punished for something they were not even a part of.

  19. I’ve been a WOW leader twice and this might be the most terrible idea I’ve ever heard(in terms of the program). I guarantee that families will still come the weekend before because that’s the only time working parents can move their kids in. Then instead of them having sober activities for 5 days the school is going to let the kids run free for an extra day and a half. That’s just encouraging them to drink all day and people will throw day parties if they know people will come.

    Instead the WOW program should make it a safer drinking environment. They can’t stop the drinking but they could set up a WOWie taxi that takes them from parties to the dorms no questions asked, and if somebody needs to go to the hospital then a call will be placed to take them home and instead you can take a detour and take care of them. Putting more cops out won’t do anything because the cops will always have too much to deal with and will only deal with extreme cases, and it just makes people anxious. A WOWie taxi might look like the program is encouraging drinking but in actuality it’s the program realizing that kids will be kids and in the first days away from home they’ll go a little crazy and this happens at every college. A sober ride would provide safe transportation minimizing a lot of the bad that comes with drinking and not knowing your limits.

    To support this I gave my WOWies a cab number the first day of WOW and although most of them just took it and never used it, but there were some that thanked me because instsead of being a scarred 5’3" girl walking home alone because your friends ditched you to go to another party, she stayed at the house and got a cab ride to the dorms.

    If the week is shortened and the groups are still like 10 people per group like it has been the last 2 years then it’s no longer WOW. The people involved won’t get the bonding that WOW is about, they wouldn’t get to see what this town has to offer, and this program will slowly wind away and nobody who has been a part of it in any way wants that. Give a safe end to the night and things will improve. Beating down drinking is only making it more prominent, so instead of minimizing drinking minimize the amount of people that end up in the hospital and with tickets to pay.

  20. Anyone will say that WOW week is one of the best weeks of their college experience. Coming to college, most students have partying on their mind, and it is bound to happen. Shortening a week that everyone is excited about will not do anything. Students will obviously still go out regardless if it is WOW week or not. During that week, everyone was educated on alcohol and drug abuse, and that is the best the school can do to warn students about the consequences. It is a hasty generalization to say that all the years to come, will act the same way just because of this year. Cal Poly does its best to educate their new students on alcohol and drugs, and they can only do so much. However, I do not think that shortening their will week will change the matter. I think just because of the incidents that occurred last year, resulted in higher security. RAs and police flooded Cal Poly and the freshman this year were caught because they were more alert and did not want the same thing to occur again. This is why we are more aware of all these incidents because we were on the look out for them. Taking away the freshman’s WOW week for next year will not have that much of an affect as the school thinks. Whether they want to believe it or not, they will drink if they choose to drink.

  21. People need to take a step back and realize the ramifications of shortening WOW week. There are so many logical fallacies in here. The first being that the author polarizes all the freshman into a drunken group of partiers. You can’t let a small percentage of the freshman represent the majority.

    Also, there is a huge appeal to fear when the writter say that if we don’t shorten WOW week there will be more freshman arrests, alcohol abuse, etc. If we don’t do anything will freshman really drop like flies?

    It was a community wide problem this year but if students start getting admitted to the ER room during the middle of the year are we going to shorten the academic schoool year?

    WOW is a great program that is a huge part of the reason why freshman feel so comfortable here. I went through it last year and it made the transition process much easier.

    With less days it is more inconvenient. Parents need to help the students move in and most are working so how does a mid week move in accomadate them? You can’t expect freshmen to drive especially when Cal Poly tells freshmen they don’t need cars and the permit is $400?

    The problem isn’t WOW.

  22. Ya know, WOW has been around for a while, and sure it has done some good things in its time. But I think that the President’s office is right. WOW is obviously the problem. Clearly, we should cut the whole program and let the freshmen figure things out on their own.

  23. Solution: Don’t have the first day of school on Tuesday!

    Crack down on off-campus parties close to campus. They’re not hard to find!

    Keep WOW the way it is. I think drinking will be even worse without the connections made during WOW. WOWies will not respect their WOW leaders if they don’t get to know them. Their whole WOW experience is going to be presentations on alcohol abuse. Good luck getting participants!

    Don’t let students move into the dorms early if they aren’t doing WOW or something else campus related.

  24. If Cal Poly thinks that freshmen can’t handle making their own choices for 5 days, what does this say about the quality of people being admitted to Cal Poly?

    I was a WOWie 4 years ago. I drank during WOW. My WOW group had parties after WOW. Every single member of my WOW group has either graduated from Cal Poly or is now a fifth year. None of us dropped out or got arrested.

    Cal Poly already has one of the most pathetic campus communities of any big public university–there is NOTHING to hold students on campus that compares to what’s available to them off campus. Taking away WOW would be a disaster for Cal Poly’s student life and would remove one of the few unique things Cal Poly has to offer.

    One last thing-I met my husband in WOW 4 years ago; we got drunk at a post-WOW party and have been together ever since. Sometimes letting students have a little fun is not a disaster!

  25. The information in this article only serves to highlight that Fall Launch was more to blame for the excessive drinking than WoW was. The graphic at the right doesn’t even have the correct dates for Wow! Also, taking the survey data from the freshmen is totally unreliable. Most students just put the highest scores or average scores for any school survey. Unless they felt strongly that the program didn’t help (Which it did) however the Fall Launch was new and not as structured as WoW and didn’t keep the kids busy enough during the evening to even have kids consider not partying. WoW does a much better job at this and it does it for a full 5 days. 3.5 days is shortcutting a great program because of a little misguided media attention.

  26. I dont see how the spike in drink that supposedly occurred this year is in any way WOW’s fault. The whole WOW program is unparalleled in its positive impact on a incoming freshman’s life. Other programs at other universities don’t even come close. I have spoken to many friends who wished they would have had an orientation program like WOW. In addition, WOW goes to great lengths to inform these incoming freshman on the danger of not just alcohol, but of other things as well, such as drugs and depression.

    I dont think there was necessarily that big of a spike in drinking this year as opposed to any other year. This years group of freshman just happened to get caught. Anybody who takes a drive down Hathway during WOW can see this every year with out fail. Mobs of freshman are house hunting looking for the next party where they can get a free beer or shot. And the worst thing is, almost everyone of these houses is just sitting there welcoming them with opened arms.

    Its unfortunate really that it has taken an event like this for the university to take responsibility for what has been going on right under there nose. As usual, if there is no bad press because of it, it gets swept under the rug until next year. It was a time bomb just waiting to go off.

    If the university really want to put an end to this, then encourage the police to crack down on the partying that goes on OUTSIDE of WOW. I have seen police officer drive right buy houses where only a fool would think that underage drinking is not going on inside. Although they are not the only culprit, the Greek system definitely plays a role in this. Different fraternity houses, wanting to get their name out there as the place to party and pick up girls, go to great lengths to get freshman into there house and partying with them. Yet the university and the greek system have done nothing about it. Even back in my freshman year, people were announcing parties on Facebook letting freshman know exactly where to go for some free booze.

    WOW is not the source of all this debauchery. In my experience with WOW, the only thing i really saw during the week was WOW leaders letting freshman know where to go to find a party after all the WOW events were over. Any WOW leaders that I knew who got caught drinking with their WOWies were almost immediately expelled. If WOW is guilt of anything, its not being strick enough with who they allow to be WOW leaders and represent their organization.

    Dont punish WOW because they have been branded as the face of this problem. Instead, I would encourage the university to take a hard look at what else is going on. If WOW is guilt, then the program should by all means be altered. But I find it hard to believe that changing anything about WOW would fix this problem.

  27. Supposedly, when you turn 18, you are an adult. Mailing letters home to parents is not treating them like adults, but more like minors. If they drink too much and wind up in the hospital, that’s their decision and they should be free to experience any of the consequences. The parents have failed their children if one of the first things the child does with his new-found independence is drink himself stupid or get arrested.

    Also, shortening next year’s WoW is punishing next year’s incoming class for the actions of this year’s freshman class.

  28. Short of a complete military state, there will be college parties. There will be alcohol and drugs. Yes, Poly should educate freshman of the dangers and teach them how to be safe if they do choose to participate. If parents have an issue with this, then maybe they should send their kids to a school that does have traditional college parties like BYU.

  29. WOW is not the issue, all of the freshman drinking during WOW is facilitated by the fraternities and sororities around the campus, during the week these organizations should not be permitted to hold events – if they violate this suggestion then they will no longer be permitted to affiliate with on campus events (rush week etc.). simple solution.

    Also, if WOWies didn’t have bracelets they would not be as easy to identify or target for these events.

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