TORONTO -- While there won’t be any pub crawls, water-balloon fights, or dance parties, universities across the country are reminding students that frosh week isn’t cancelled, it’s just going to be a little different this year.

School administrations and student associations have been scrambling to organize virtual orientation weeks to welcome incoming students whose university experience will be very unlike those of years past.

When classes moved online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, universities were forced to adapt other aspects of campus life, such as frosh week, knowing that students wouldn’t physically be there.

And it’s a daunting challenge, to say the least.

Megan Town, the vice-president of education with the University of Waterloo Undergraduate Student Union, said they’re trying to recapture the excitement of the first week with a variety of virtual activities.

“It’s honestly really difficult,” she told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. “We’ve been thinking about events that are sort of similar to what we usually run in person, like a scavenger hunt has transitioned to an online photo scavenger hunt, but some of them are different and more applicable for an online format.”

Town said some of the other events planned for new students for the first week of September include an activity called “Dear First-Year Me” where students can write a message to their first-year selves, an online workout, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a drag show.

“We kind of set out to design orientation this year with the goals of achieving many of the usual outcomes of orientation, like building a sense of community and learning about campus traditions as well as the resources that students need to succeed, but all delivered online so it's accessible to students no matter where they are,” she said.

Esther Deng, the orientation events lead for health and wellness at Ryerson University in Toronto, said they’re trying to focus on making their activities as interactive as possible so students feel involved in their school community.

The university has a jammed packed schedule of virtual events, which kicked off on Monday, that will run over the course of two weeks and include an online fashion show, an escape room, a talent show, and concerts every evening.

“So [we’ve organized] different interactions, more academic online orientations, allowing students to go even if they're abroad or they're unable to commute to Toronto,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.

Eduardo Malorni of the Concordia Student Union in Montreal said he has other concerns about students’ safety, particularly those who feel like they are missing out on parties.

“That's our biggest worry right now, is that someone wants to have the frosh of previous years’ experience, where there's a lot of drinking involved,” he told CTV News Montreal on Monday. “And at home alone, no one is available to help them if something does go wrong.”


If they’re unable to go to social events and parties, students may have a difficult time meeting their peers.

That’s why Deng said Ryerson University students have already started meeting each other through online chat groups and mentoring programs.

“A lot of people meeting online first and then meeting each other in person later on when we have in-person events when things go back to normal,” she said.

Kathleen Weary of the Carleton University Students’ Association in Ottawa said they’re also trying to focus on ways to get students to interact with each other during this important time in their school careers.

“We are preparing to support students and enhance their student experience in lots of new ways, so primarily through online engagement and potentially a few social distancing events,” she told CTV News Ottawa earlier in August.

Not all schools are holding virtual-only orientation weeks, however.

At Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Que., frosh week will consist of a blend of virtual events and in-person activities that will require participants to wear face masks.

“We’re trying to find fun tricks to make it not just like ‘You have to social distance,’ but also keep your spirits high,” said Amelia Krallis, one organizer told CTV Montreal on Monday. “Because it is a positive time. People are coming to university, but also [are] safe.”

Julia Pereira, the president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, which represents eight universities in Ontario, acknowledged that, despite organizers’ best efforts, campus life likely won’t be the same as in the past.

“I think that the student experience for university students will definitely be different this year,” she told CTV News Ottawa. “I think that these student leaders are trying their best to continue things like orientation week, clubs, social events; even if it has to be in a virtual setting.”