If you’re new to this university, Disorientation Guide may not ring a bell.
Maybe you’ve been spending too much time in Terpzone, or in line at Chipotle, and have yet to discover where the cool kids go to play.
Or, maybe you’ve noticed these pamphlets tucked into the bookshelves at the Maryland Food Co-Op. Maybe you were handed one at the First Look Fair in October, or stumbled upon the guide when the guy you met at that open mic night shared it on Facebook.
In fact, these guides have a rich history, both at this university and others. In the wake of massive unrest on campuses around the nation in the 1960s, efforts to restore order often resulted in severe restrictions, according to this university’s 2014-2015 Disorientation Guide.
In 1970, the Nixon administration, the Board of Education, the FBI and the Board of Directors from major public universities stopped funding and allowing student involvement with official university publications.
Among these banned publications were guides created by students involved in radical, activist and counter-culture communities on campus that were distributed to incoming freshmen at orientation.
In response, students went underground to organize their own radical publications. The UMD Radical Guide, the first disorientation guide at this university, was published in May 1970.
These pamphlets are the product of a collaboration between many individuals and organizations. Collectively, the group is known as the UMD Radical Rush, and they assemble each summer to publish the Disorientation Guide, a project senior sociology major Savannah Staubs described as “dynamic and effervescent.”
Individuals in Co-Op Housing UMD as well as those involved in activism, resistance and art in the community work with organizations, students, alumni and university employees to gather content for the pamphlets.
The Maryland Hip-Hop Collective, Bedsider, the Maryland Food Co-Op and Justice at Maryland are just a few of the guide’s contributors, supplying literature and artwork that provide students with information about their presence and impact on campus.
“We tried to contact every group we could on campus to see if they were interested in this and [to] see if they wanted to contribute, and some did,” said Todd Waters, a senior cell biology and genetics major. “WMUC contributed, and a whole bunch of activist groups contributed as well. It’s kind of a weird, mixed bag of people who are either into activism or resistance who become the core group of people who organize this.”
Bringing the Revolution
As a prominent figure in ACT UMD, a social justice group heavily involved with the production of the guides, Waters said he has been involved with the production of the Disorientation Guides for the past three years, contributing art, writing, time and money for the publication.
“Toward the end, me and my friend Shelby [LaVigna] put about 60 hours of work into the guide in a four- to five-day period,” Waters said. “It was nuts. There were two days when I just worked on the guide for like 15 hours straight … then I’d go to bed, wake up after six hours, and do it all over again.”
This year, the guide received more downloads than ever before, reaching nearly 10,000 hits online. Staubs speculated that it could be due to the number of organizations they reached out to this year as opposed to years passed. Waters attributed the guide’s popularity to its strong presence on social media platforms such as WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook.
Over the summer, Waters attended a student power conference in Montreal and met other activists who work on disorientation guides at their schools.
While speaking with like-minded participants, he learned that a student union in Illinois used this university’s guide as an example for other schools to emulate.
“Our link on WordPress got thousands of hits, and to a diverse range of countries,” Waters said. “So, this year, it got viewed by students across the country, but also around the world. We had downloads from 44 different countries total.”
Despite the guide’s international outreach, its presence on campus is still limited.
Because the guide is supported strictly by donations, only about 250 were published. Of those, 200 were distributed at the First Look Fair, while the other 50 are brought to the Food Co-Op throughout the year.
“I think [the guides] are awesome,” sophomore sociology major Oliver Owens said. “I don’t know about the sort of impact it has on campus, though, because as I feel like it doesn’t have as far a reach as, maybe, it could … for example, I’d never heard of it, and, ideally, people would know about it.”
Senior journalism major Madeleine List said the guides are resourceful and offer an unconventional perspective.
“I think [the guides] have a lot of great information that you wouldn’t find from more mainstream sources,” List said. “But I don’t know how prominent they are. I don’t really see them around campus and I think a lot of people don’t know about them.”
Waters said the feedback he’s received has been “super positive.”
“I was really excited when Red Emma’s, the coffeehouse and bookstore in Baltimore, said they liked it, and had read it, even,” Staubs said. The bookstore, which is featured in this year’s Disorientation Guide, has requested copies of the guide for display.
Chris Bangert-Drowns, a sophomore economics major who attended one of the Guide’s planning seminars this past year, said one of the most imperative topics he found in the Disorientation Guide was the piece on drug use.
“I think that’s one of the most stigmatized behaviors, or lifestyles, across society,” Bangert-Drowns said. “To have that very blunt conversation about it … was really important, not only for releasing that stigma and alleviating that, but also directly addressing health and safety issues with drug use.”
Waters said he most enjoys hearing positive feedback from people who found practical uses for the guide. For some it exposed them to a place or organization on campus and for others it taught them about important issues like consent, forms of oppression and drug policy.
“Students need to know that they have power,” Staubs said. “They have voices and outlets to express that.”
Daphne Pellegrino is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.