Homecoming organizers cater to parents and alumni, seek student engagement

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The Gilman Fountain operating with water, a rare sight at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Friday Oct. 26, 2018. Molly Kauffman/The Occidental
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Occidental hosted its annual homecoming and family weekend to welcome alumni and parents back to campus and celebrate school spirit Oct. 19–21. Activities offered as part of this event were “student for a day” classes for parents, campus tours, music and dance performances, “Oswald’s Carnival” and the homecoming football, volleyball, water polo and soccer games. The Alumni and Parent Engagement staff hosted and sponsored the event. Monika Moore, director of parent and alumni engagement, and Alisa Fishbach ’87, assistant director of parent and alumni engagement, were heavily involved with the planning and execution of the weekend.

“Reunion weekend is always kind of a highlight for alums,” Fishbach said. “We have orientation for new parents, but homecoming is really the chance for everybody in the community to come together to celebrate Oxy and to learn what’s new about Oxy and what would be different from the last time they’d connected with the college.”

Aligning with the goal of welcoming alumni back to their former home, various offices and clubs hosted events like the “Fiji Sunset Hike,” the “Community Pancake Breakfast” and the “Post-Game Gathering,” which were designed to gather past and current students together to ensure a fun weekend for all. As this year marks the 130th anniversary since Occidental first enrolled students, organizers also hosted a specific event to discuss the past century of traditions, rivalries and myths at Occidental. All of the events were created with a conscious effort to allow everyone to have the opportunity to be involved with homecoming weekend, according to Fishbach.

“[There were] campus partners who decided to program that weekend so that there were a variety of things, and depending on what you were interested in, there was something to do. We just tried to create lots of options in addition to the moments where everybody can come together,” Fishbach said.

According to Moore, Facilities staff made temporary repairs to the fountain as a security measure, allowing it to be used during the weekend festivities.

Monika Moore explains how Occidental College utilizes Homecoming to connect alumni with current students at the Samuelson Alumni Center in Los Angeles on Thursday Oct. 25, 2018. Molly Kauffman/The Occidental

“Any time we have events around the fountain, we have to think of safety concerns as well as just aesthetics,” Moore said. “Having someone who may be intoxicated or drinking and falling into a fountain of water is better than having them fall into a fountain that’s empty.”

According to Fishbach, the numbers show that student attendance at the various events had increased significantly from the year prior, though the Alumni and Parent Engagement staff were unable to provide exact statistics on the number of student attendees. Last year, the organizers became aware of the lack of student engagement and made a deliberate effort to make that a priority for this year, according to Moore.

“One of the realizations last year was that we had students and faculty and staff who, as we were setting things up on the quad and other spaces, would walk by and be like, ‘This looks great, what’s happening here?’ and that was a big moment for us to realize that students were not really latching onto the idea that it was homecoming,” Moore said.

The Alumni and Parent Engagement staff worked closely with Rob Flot, the vice president for student affairs and dean of students, and his team. Additionally, the administration included various student-run organizations in the planning — such as the Associated Students of Occidental College and the Office of Student Life — to combat the perception that homecoming weekend is just for alumni and parents, according to Moore.

Though there was a conscious effort to include a wide variety of activities, Moore said that homecoming weekend is traditionally centered around the homecoming football game. In light of last season’s cancellation, the return of the homecoming football game seemed to help increase student engagement, according to Fishbach.

Harrison Wakefield (junior), defensive captain on Occidental’s football team, said that the team could feel the energy from the students, alumni and families at the game, which helped increase their energy levels on the field. The game also provided an opportunity for current football players to meet and connect with alumni players.

Harrison Wakefield (junior) explains his experience on the Oxy Football team in Los Angeles on Friday Oct. 26, 2018. Molly Kauffman/The Occidental

“It’s always a lot of fun,” Wakefield said. “The homecoming atmosphere is always a little bit different — there’s a little bit more excitement, energy in the air, the stands are a little bit more packed for homecoming games. For football, we have a lot of alumni who come to the homecoming games, so getting the support from the fans but also to see guys coming back that graduated in the 60s, 70s, 80s, coming back and supporting you is really cool.”

While football is, and for the foreseeable future will be, a big part of homecoming weekend, both Moore and Fishbach said they are hoping to continually increase student involvement in planning the weekend. Their current goal for next year’s event is to work with students in the spring to begin planning for homecoming that fall.

According to both Moore and Fishbach, the feedback they received so far from those who attended has been positive, and they are hoping to continue that trend into next year’s event. The Alumni and Parent Engagement staff are asking for students interested in helping to program the event to contact them directly.