As an Outdoor Action leader, I am a devout believer in name games. My personal favorite is asking the frosh for their names, along with spirit kitchen utensils. Although at first they might be confused or weirded out, by the end they can’t contain their laughter as they matter-of-factly say things like “I guess I’d like to be a spatula,” or “Maybe an egg whisk would be nice?” In a small group setting in which people are meeting for the first time, these personal introductions, or “ice-breakers,” serve a critical function of setting a precedent of openness and encouraging friendly relations among participants. Failing to do so creates the opposite: an unwelcoming and impersonal atmosphere — which is why I was appalled during the first week of precepts, when many of my preceptors didn’t even bother asking for names.
It is true that OA and precepts are very different; the first is designed for students to make friends and adjust to a new college environment, whereas the second is aimed at learning academic material. Although the goal of a precept is not necessarily for “fun” in the same way it is for OA, starting off with personal introductions, if not name games, remains important to creating a sense of belonging, which ultimately promotes collaboration and more effective learning. Names matter.
In one of my precepts last week, the preceptor dove into the material as soon as we sat down. No names at all. When he asked questions, there was palpable awkwardness and prolonged silence — not surprisingly, because people generally don’t feel comfortable speaking up in a new setting before a group of strangers.
Compare that to a precept I had later in the day, in which the preceptor began by introducing himself and then went around the room and asked everyone say their name, class year, hometown, and something they do for fun. At first glance, it may seem like a childish waste of time, but the differences were profound: It gave us a chance to recognize the people around us and get glimpses into their personalities and who they are. Furthermore, it helped all of us feel more comfortable asking and answering questions, as well as carrying out discussions. The people around us felt less like strangers. For an overhead cost of only about 10–15 minutes, the results were well worth it.
Taken in the greater context of Princeton, where one can easily feel lonely amid a sea of people focused intently on their own goals, the need for introductions and a personal touch in precepts and other small classes or seminars becomes even more compelling. The University cares about building friendships and camaraderie, as it works so hard on OA/CA/DDA and ’zee groups for first-year students. Why not go one step further and institute a policy requiring personal introductions in precepts, seminars, and other small classes?
Currently, the choice falls on the preceptor and whether they feel like it. I’ve encountered really great preceptors who care about each individual student, but also some who are lackadaisical and barely put in minimum effort. Of course, even without formal introductions, students can always take it upon themselves to initiate getting to know each other — but it would be much more efficient and effective if there were some standardized policy that required personal introductions. Ultimately, this is a simple fix that would have resounding effects. Your spirit kitchen utensil is more important than you think.
Siyang Liu is a sophomore from Princeton, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.