Poetic Freshman Orientation

This year at freshman orientation, Dr. Pfannenstiel and a group of volunteers designed a game using One Book One Campus to help students experience reading in a new way. Skyler Gibbon, a senior, reflected on what she saw and experienced as a part of orientation. 

I have a confession to make. When I started out as a freshman social work major at Millersville University in Fall 2014, I did not go to about 90% of freshman orientation. Sadly, I snobbishly dismissed it. At that time, I never would have thought that as a senior in 2019, I would actively choose to be present and choose to be engaged at freshman orientation. And let me tell you, going this year as a volunteer made me wish that I had attended my own orientation into this spirited, creative, and innovative academic community. Though I cannot describe freshman orientation as a freshman, I can describe it now as a senior volunteer. I was energized not only by the number of the freshman who are joining us at MU this year, but by their creativity, confidence, empowerment, and thoughtfulness through blackout poetry.

The novel “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Bryan Kiely is our current One Book, One Campus selection. To facilitate meaningful conversations about race among students on campus, the One Book organizers and One Book volunteers used excerpts from “All American Boys.” Blackout poetry is simple, but still a profound art. Basically, students had to cross off what they didn’t want in the text, leaving what they wanted to keep to form their blackout poem.

It is common for people to build walls between themselves and the things that help us grow or challenge us. Poetry is one of those things. I think many people often believe that it is something innate. Or that is for more contemplative types. Or for monks that live on mountain tops. Or for 1800s’ transcendentalists who live near ponds. Or, as Dr Archibald has argued, for people who have had “a fairy land on their head to gift them.” Through blackout poetry, freshman students discovered that poetry can be created from what already exists rather than being completely manifested. Sure, there were a few students who still felt too discouraged to give a thoughtful attempt. However, almost everyone left appreciating the language that can emerge out of themselves through poetry. It surprised them. Many eyes lit up with the discovery of the profundity that was woven from the fabrics of their own mind and the words of “All American Boys.” They saw how poetry is freeing rather than confining. They saw how poetry can give the sense of a fierce and rebellious act through potentially using a marker to cross out lines in an old, worn library book. They have the words before them. They just had to choose which ones to use. And there is something so exciting and powerful in that.

Welcome to MU, new innovators/rebels

-Skyler Gibbon