True Freshmen Need More Support at Stern 

By: Gabriella Gomperts  |  May 26, 2024

By Gabriella Gomperts, Features Editor

The minute I was accepted to Stern, I waited with bated breath to move to New York and start college. I was so ready to move across the country, away from my family and everything I knew, to start a grand adventure in the big city. My summer was filled with anticipation as I curated my class schedule and bought my first winter coat. August rolled around, and I landed at Newark Airport to a beautiful sunset. When I arrived at Stern, I unpacked my bags in my tiny dorm room and said goodbye to my mom. I was finally ready to start this new chapter of my life. 

Needless to say, I was very excited for freshman orientation. What I didn’t know was that orientation was for every first-time-on-campus student, including true freshmen, transfer students, and students who had gone to seminary. No matter, I came to Stern to make friends. However, as I entered Kotch Auditorium for the predictable icebreakers, I was thrown off when I saw that the rows of tables were labeled by seminary. The true freshmen and transfer students only had a table or two to themselves since they only make up a tiny portion of the student body, and everyone else was sitting with the peers they had just spent the last year with. 

I was shocked. I couldn’t understand why the school wanted to reinforce these cliques and actively prevent students from interacting with new people. 

I quickly realized that most girls weren’t interested in making new friends and seemed happy to stick with their peers from seminary. In an attempt to integrate true freshman and transfer students into this campus culture, Stern sets up meetings once a week for these students in a small group with an advisor, as well as holds the occasional social event headed by two friendly Madrichot. However, I struggled to make friends outside of my roommates the rest of the semester, and resigned myself to my room every Shabbat. It didn’t help that all clubs were initially canceled at the start of that semester and slow to start up again once they resumed. Thank God, as time passed, I was able to get out of this social slump and made incredible friends since, but the transition was much harder than it should have been. 

Now that I’m nearing the end of my (true) sophomore year, it’s extremely clear to me that there were quite a few things I should’ve been made aware of before coming to Stern. Mainly, I just didn’t realize how integral going to seminary was before going to Stern. Personally, I couldn’t go to seminary due to health concerns at the time. Yet, I can imagine Stern is somewhat of a continuation of what girls experienced in seminary, not only in their Torah learning, but also in their personal growth. After having experienced Stern through the eyes of a true freshman, it seems that the expectation at Stern is that a student will go to seminary after high school, learn to live on her own, make new friends and have a formative experience, so that by the time she comes to Stern she is an independent person ready to take on the next stages of life. Yet, at most other colleges, freshmen go through what the Stern girl goes through in seminary. Therefore, this area of growth is where I felt I was lacking most, and this hardship intensified as I realized that Stern did not seem to be willing to assist in helping create that environment with me. 

Therefore, I came up with a solution: Stern should expand the already existing true freshmen and transfer integration program. For example, the Mechina program, instituted for students who come from public schools or an irreligious background, is a thriving program that hosts events, Shabbatons, and allows its students to take introductory Judaic classes to ease their transition into Stern. A program similar to Mechina, or even having some access to the Mechina program itself, would greatly benefit true freshman students such as myself. The programming itself should ultimately work to transition true freshmen to ensure that they are easily integrated with the rest of the student body at Stern. 

Put simply, girls go from seminary to Stern with the tools they need to thrive in Judaic classes, as well as with a wealth of life experiences, both spiritually and socially. True freshmen, whether they couldn’t go to seminary or chose not to, nevertheless come to Stern at a disadvantage. With access to additional programming, Stern can provide an easy fix that would go a long way for these students. 

Photo caption: the day I landed in New York freshman year.