Welcome Week ‘23: Perspectives of a first year
From debates to races, Welcome Week can be a wild experience.
For many first-years, Welcome Week can be a relief after navigating the esoteric enrolment processes and other impossibly user-unfriendly websites — now the real university experience begins. Although many fleeting friendships were developed in the lines for Redbull and free toothpaste, Welcome Week was definitely a mixed bag of experiences.
Like lambs to the slaughter, the early morning empty stalls and Eastern Avenue buildings led me to a Socialist Alternative recruitment drive instantly. I’d barely left my bus before being asked “Do you care about left-wing politics?” and a flyer thrust into my hands. “Meet the socialists,” the poorly cropped paper tells me. No, thanks.
We kept slipping between SAlt’s recruiters until we finally reached the Quad, walking past the damned who were too nice to say no. God knows it’ll be impossible to unsubscribe from their mailing list.
After a confusing hour where my student mentor led four of us into a strange, empty room off of the Great Hall and abandoned us, we were finally led to a lecture theatre where various academics took the stage. By the second hour, many had grown hungry, talking over SRC President Lia Perkins and club representatives out of — what was hopefully — restlessness.
Finally offered the free lunch, my mentor group seemingly disbanded in the hoard and never re-formed, so I tagged along with another group for the “Amazing Race.”
Handed a yellow piece of paper, where a set of four ingenious and brain-teasing challenges were laid out, including but not limited to, theorising where a staircase led to — “creative answers only!” — and counting how many gargoyles were in a specific area.
During the “race”, we soon realised that we had no competitors, as almost all students had left. I quietly slipped away too.
Braving the impenetrable thickets of students, I found myself desperately navigating around lines that cut through busy thoroughfares as I got acquainted with the clubs, societies, and political factions of USyd.
Like death and taxes, SAlt proved themselves to, again, be one of the certainties of life.
We soon became acquainted with minions of the Conservative Club, who paraded around with a Steven Crowder-esque sign asking “How many people has socialism killed?” in which people would tally under the options “100 mil or am I wrong”. One then donned an Israeli flag and yelled some unintelligible nonsense towards the left-wing stalls.
A group of college girls then approached the Wom*n’s Collective stall, claiming to be offended by the stickers that read “burn the colleges”. With the entitlement of someone whose nuggets had been forgotten at McDonald’s, they demanded to speak to someone higher up to complain, despite those who created the stickers being there at the stall.
The organ blared Star Wars’ Imperial March for the half empty Great Hall as six academics made their way to the stage to debate what “power” is. Allotted 5 minute speaking times, each debater argued what power is with regards to their specific faculty — clearly with the intention of showing us how FASS courses intersect.
It was fairly lighthearted, with Professor Jioji Ravulo’s speech beginning with a musical act of “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. Although, it seemed the only thing many speakers leaned on was swearing for a cheap laugh from students who’d never heard a teacher curse.
Professor Sonja Van Wichelen argued that by not clapping after her speech, we would reclaim personal power and subvert the system — the system being the Decibel X app that served as an ‘applause-o-meter’ to decide the winner of the debate.
Her speech concluded to applause.
Some speakers were surprisingly engaging, particularly the opening speech by Dr Paul Dwyer who pretended to be the “villainous John Howard”. He demonstrated the power of symbolic gestures, casting us as the delegates who physically turned their backs towards Howard during the 1997 Reconciliation Convention.
Although it was proudly branded as a socratic debate several times, there was no time for questions or rebuttals, leaning more towards a socratic seminar — although one key aspect of the seminar is that it is not a debate and thus there is no winner.
So, despite barely being a debate, Dr Anne Rogerson was crowned the winner by Decibel X, donning a laurel made of plastic leaves.
And despite the sea of white bucket hats and constant Harry Potter references, Welcome Week did prove to be a somewhat pleasant introduction to campus life. We’ve seen the political clashes and recruiting drives. We’ve endured the disorganised and somewhat ridiculous events hosted by the university. And we’ve battled with the constant volley of “what are you studying?”
We’re basically university veterans by now.