"Why a Disorientation Guide? Because Tufts won't tell you everything you need to know. Because every upperclassman has said, 'I wish I knew that as a freshman!' about something at some point. Because if you ever think, 'What the hell is this place, do I belong here?' You're SO not alone."
So begins the Disorientation Guide, distributed at the start of the semester by a group called the Tufts Anti-Authoritarian Collective. The Guide gives first-year students advice on how to adjust to campus life and, in the process, offers information and opinions not traditionally provided by the Undergraduate Orientation program.
The Disorientation Guide contains short, largely anonymous informational articles on a variety of issues, including consensual sexual culture, "smart" drug and alcohol use, Tufts' radical history, student organizations and veganism. The Collective fashioned its peer-edited Guide as a zine by cutting, pasting and photocopying.
The Guide also includes several opinionated pieces, including "So you're a freshman at Tufts... what the f--k do you do now?" which sharply criticizes some aspects of campus life. Claiming to debunk myths about campus for incoming freshmen, the article's tips include, "Have fun in all your classes filled with upper middle class white people" and "I know you came here because Tufts is known for IR and you want to end up in some NGO helping kids in Africa. I get it. Don't do IR."
According to sophomore Collective member Nate Matthews, the Tufts Anti-Authoritarian Collective came into being last spring as a reincarnation of the waning Tufts Occupiers movement. Matthews explained that the Collective remains radical and oriented toward direct action, but hopes to widen its actions beyond Occupy. This includes support of other organizations and movements on campus, such as the Tufts Responsible Endowment Collective and Students for Justice in Palestine, as well as the Disorientation Guide.
"I came to Tufts Occupiers because I was excited by the potential for radical change in the system. I feel like a lot of times politics gets into back -and-forth battles or a bunch of reform that doesn't solve the underlying problems," Matthews said. "I stayed on because I like what the group was doing - more direct action."
According to Matthews, the main purpose of the Guide is to provide a platform for many underrepresented, radical voices on campus and to present the option of an alternative community to freshmen.
"While there's a mainstream culture at Tufts, which is very much liberal and thinking within the political spectrum
,that's not all - there are other ways to be," Matthews said. "You can be outside the political spectrum, you can decide to do other things, and if you want to, you can not like Tufts. For the freshmen who might not like it right away, we want to say [that] that's okay, not everyone does, but you can find a community that you'll feel good in."
Associate Dean for Orientation and Student Transition Laura Doane found truth in components of the Guide's message.
"I think that a lot of the critique was [the writers' response] to a mismatch between their expectations coming into Tufts and their experiences here so far," she said. "[There's] a sincere intention of mentoring these students and having their expectations match their experience."
Many freshmen appear to have reacted positively to the Collective's down-to-earth approach.
"I thought it was really interesting - a lot of stuff to read," freshman Oona Taper said. "Out of all the pamphlets I've gotten from clubs - it was the one that seemed like it actually wanted to make a community, not just recruit people."
Freshman Ben Hosking has already joined the Collective and helped distribute copies of the Disorientation Guide in Hill Hall.
"I came into Tufts looking at the list of clubs and organizations and not really seeing anything for leftists, so I was going to start a club," he said. "But now that I've realized that this exists, I decided to join this group, which isn't officially recognized for obvious reasons."
The Anti-Authoritarian Collective asserts that being an unofficial student group is advantageous in many ways. The group's status is in line with its principles, and its position allows for greater freedom - and freedom to criticize the administration.
However, the administration appears to have responded well to the Guide. Doaneacknowledged its relevance to Tufts freshmen.
"I have to say, overall I think it is extremely well-written and has some great content," she said. "I wonder and suspect if the power of that guide, and potentially the usefulness, is that it's an underground publication."
Doane cited positive reactions from many members of the administration with whom she discussed the Guide. However, she expressed ambivalence about its piece on drugs and alcohol, which encourages students to "know the policies in place here which govern how you can enjoy your private hobbies without screwing up your future."
"As much as I acknowledge that it's a struggle for many students . . . there's no way I can sign off on some of the drugs and alcohol stuff," Doane said. "I think that [message] indicates that [drug and alcohol use] is an intrinsic part of university culture, [which] can be troublesome."
In comparison to official Orientation materials, which mainly consist of schedules and calendars, the Disorientation Guide is a more all-inclusive, informational guide.
According to senior Audrey Abrell, the Coordinator for Communication and Logistics for this year's Orientation, the Guide was helpful in orienting freshmen to their new environment because of its honesty and informality.
"Any contribution that current students can make to help new students transition to Tufts is helpful, no matter what form it is," Abrell said. "If we did that kind of publication, it would have to be approved and wouldn't be able to contain certain things. That's what makes [the Guide] better."
It is unclear whether the administration's warm response to the Guide undermines its critical, anti-authoritarian message. Matthews clarified the Collective's position on the question.
"In my mind, when you're anti-authoritarian, you always challenge authority
but that's not the same as trying to oppose the authority at all times," he said.
"We're not anti-authorities, we're anti-authoritarian."