Bantam Network: giving first-years a nest to fly into

This year, Trinity introduced its brand new addition to the first-year experience: the Bantam Network. President Joanne Berger-Sweeney entered her presidency last fall on a mission to provide an updated mentoring network to incoming students. She presented selected groups of students with her hopes, and they worked hard throughout the year to draft ideas and achieve this goal. A dedicated team of students and faculty members then worked over the summer to perfect the new mentoring program from the winning idea. The Bantam Network is the final representation of Berger-Sweeney’s dream, and Dean of Campus Life and Vice President of Student Affairs Joe DiChristina says that the Network “has been an institutional effort that in the beginning has started well.”
The Bantam Network places each first-year seminar into one of ten “Nests” of about 60 students each, which aim to build community through trips, events, and a sense that each bantam belongs to a legacy at Trinity. Students of each Nest live in neighboring residence halls to foster an interactive and tight-knit community. Madison Ochs ’18, a member of the Nest design team, expects that, “[the Network] will do a better job of connecting people and at least get some of the initial intimidation out of the way.” First-year student Josh Corbo ’19 has supported this expectation by calling the Bantam Network, “a nice safety net to fall back on when it got overwhelming the first week.”
As part of the mentoring design, each Nest is provided with many guides to help its first-year students adjust. The mentors include a student life dean, a “Trinsition” fellow who has recently graduated, a faculty mentor, and several peer mentors. In addition to this core group of guidance, each Nest is connected with Career Development fellows, Wellness mentors, and Study-Away liaisons. Resident Assistants and PRIDE leaders are still incorporated into the first-year experience as well, and have all been assigned to Nests themselves.
Although the Bantam Network focuses on first-year students, it boasts that it will not exclude upper-year students who started at Trinity prior to the Network’s founding.
Each student should be able to affiliate with a Nest either by mentoring for a first-year seminar, working closely with a professor in a Nest, or simply choosing a Nest where they feel they belong. Many upper-year students still remain skeptical of this supposed inclusivity. Christy Chan ’18 says that upper-year students “do feel left out of it. [The freshmen] are all part of this community and we were just thrown in here to make friends the old-fashioned way.”
As part of the Bantam Network initiative, first-year dorms have received a much-desired update. Each dorm now has a fully-functioning kitchen and a completely renovated common room. This initiative was designed to provide a space for first-years to hang out and allow a place to cook food the way students would be able to at home.
First-years will also have access later in the academic year to a new communal Nest space in the lower floor of Mather. This area is intended to provide students with a larger space to lounge and cook with their Nests, and relax in a recreational section. This renovation is anticipated for the spring of 2016.
Many upper-year students foresee great things happening with this program. Michelle Read ’18 and Olivia Ouellet ’18, who lived together in Smith last year as first-year students, are both excited about the prospects of the Network. Read says that the Nests are “like Hogwarts houses,” while Ouellet adds, “but without the sorting hat!”
Although this is a simple comparison, it speaks to the fact that students are not sorted into Nests using any specific criteria. Due to this randomness, each Nest consists of an eclectic group of people who may not have had an opportunity to meet on campus if not for the Bantam Network.
The Network was carefully crafted with first-year students in mind, but it has not come without critique.
Two first-year students mentioned while waiting in line at the Bistro last week that the Nest events “feel like high school with all the required dinners,” and that it seems “forced and lame.” These feelings are understandable for first-year students to have after finally arriving at college, where they “expected to be completely left to [their] own devices.” However, in the long run these Nest events may lead to a smoother transition into the first academic year.
It is impossible to build a complicated structure that is perfect in its very first year in action. Madison Ochs ’18 says that although the Network may receive criticism right off the bat, “this first year will be a good learning process,” and that underdeveloped aspects of the Nests will be readdressed and improved for the class years ahead.

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