By: Arnav Agarwal

As incoming first-year students begin their university careers, their first footsteps are drowned out by cheering Welcome Week representatives with dyed hair and painted suits. Some scamper away with the newcomer’s baggage, while others surround and welcome them enthusiastically with cries such as “we love you, John; oh yes, we do,” cheers that ring across the university campus for eight straight days of revelry. This first week is filled with energy, as building and faculty representatives lead armies of freshmen to a plethora events in wild pursuit of the coveted Welcome Week Cup. Welcome Week is always an exciting, if not overwhelming, experience.

In the week following, there is yet another set of unique opportunities for students to engage and immerse themselves. Alternative Welcome Week, run by the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) - a non-profit organization focused on social justice and sustainability - provides the perfect opportunity for students to have a space to explore themselves, build new relationships, pursue their interests and broaden their horizons by trying something new.

From a bike-in movie, dub poetry/ open mic night and the Community Volunteer Action volunteer fair, AWW has something for everyone. “Alternative Welcome Week focuses on providing more venues for students to be entertained, inspired, motivated and essentially, to be engaged,” explains Nathaniel Loranger, member of OPIRG McMaster.

Themed around the concept of student engagement, Alternative Welcome Week has highlighted how the McMaster community is a safe space for students with various interests, backgrounds, beliefs and personalities. “A lot of these events are things that people aren’t informed or aware of, and things that people haven’t done before. But if they try it, it is something that might just click for them,” said Loranger.

AWW includes a variety of events including Bike to the Day for all of Mac’s two wheel commuters interested in exploring the city, a comedy workshop and performance, and a Positive Space Workshop, which focuses on how to create an ally space and promote advocacy for minorities such as the LGBTQ community. OPIRG also works to showcase the contributions and opportunity offered of numerous working groups at “PIRGtopia” and provides crash courses on how to develop a healthy-living survival guide, cook fresh on a student budget and have fun DIY-ing dream catchers.

“What makes Alternative Welcome Week special is how it combines the fun stuff with the learning experience that enables students to be engaged and to learn in the process. It is about opening up people’s perspectives to what’s out there and giving them a taste of something new that they might not have experienced before - about getting them to encounter new opinions, viewpoints and perspectives, and helping them develop their own.”

OPIRG McMaster is instrumental in the organization of Alternative Welcome Week. Promoting the philosophies of non-oppressive practices, non-discrimination, human rights and various other facets of social justice, OPIRG coordinates the sponsorship of grassroots campaigns and other social change initiatives, and is actively engaged in numerous student working groups. Largely student-driven, the organization extends to numerous institutions and encompasses a wide range of focuses through these student-based groups. “I started in Body Equity, which creates workshops on tolerance of diversity and differences and focuses on self-esteem. I am now a part of a group creating focus group modules to engage high-school students in their communities and in municipal affairs - all in advocacy to promote change in their communities,” explains Nathaniel.

AWW is set apart by the diversity it offers and embraces. “It is a dichotomy: a place to learn and have a wonderful time, all at once,” said Loranger. “Go try it out and see what happens. You might be surprised as to what you discover about yourself.”

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