One of my most vivid early memories from my first-year was being inducted into a “cult” during Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First Years (WOOLF) by my leader, Tyrone Scafe ’17. With all his jokes and laid-back humor, he convinced us that all the WOOLF icebreakers and games were an extended cult ritual. I learned the truth when I got back to campus, but I stayed close with him, even as he replaced our WOOLF group with the frosh in Sage A. I followed up with him recently to hear about his life post-cult.
I need to know: where did the cult come from?
Okay, so this grew out of WOOLF training. We sort of talked about doing something weird to the Class of 2018 during WOOLF. We joked that it would be funny if we told them they’re joining this cult, or we did something weird where we create this type of cultural norm during WOOLF that just doesn’t exist on campus. There is a time frame when you’re closer with your WOOLF group than you are with your entry, so we knew we had that time when frosh were very impressionable.
When I found out who my co was, we weren’t really set on doing the cult thing. Actually, even when we talked about it when we got back on campus, we weren’t planning to do it, but we kept joking about it. And then there was a golden opportunity when one of our WOOLFies asked us if there was a curriculum or something that we were supposed to teach them during WOOLF. And I guess being the type of person I am, I saw the golden opportunity, and I took it. I turned and looked at my co, and I looked back at my WOOLFie, and I said, “Well, actually, there is. Everyone at Williams is a part of a cult. And we’re inducting you into it.” In some ways, it’s true: we are all Ephs in this intentional community. But I think some of the cult logic, the cult games we were teaching you guys, may not have been strictly Williams things.
I thought we just did things that other WOOLF groups did, except you called them cult things.
No, I think our cult ritual where we broke coconuts was definitely specific to our cult.
Does your approach to being a JA this year have similarities to being a WOOLF leader?
For me, the main distinction between being a WOOLF leader and being a JA is intentionality. I definitely put less thought into being a WOOLF leader than I did into being a JA, primarily because the experience is much shorter. I approached being a JA with a very intentional mindset. Like when I was a WOOLF leader, everything was kind of spur of the moment. There wasn’t a whole lot of planning that went into it. But I think when you’re a JA, there’s a lot more involved: We’re in charge of creating the experience of 22 first-years. The 24 of us, including my co and I, we’re all invested in this experience. For us, every entry is different, and one of the ways I tried to approach the entry experience was trying to provide a framework for everyone to hit the ground running and have a great experience here at Williams. I’m supporting them in whatever ways they ask us to do, whether that’s constantly being present, reminding them about things, telling them to clean up, being parents … But at the same time, there are frosh in our entry who don’t need that. So we’re able to take steps back and do what they need us to do, which is what I wanted to do as a JA: Be what the first-years needed us to be.
Any weird entry stories?
We haven’t done anything cult-like. I’ve been very candid with my first years. I was candid with them on Day One about what we were going to be as a group and what type of JA I was going to be. I don’t think the same potential for cult-like stories are available as a JA.
How is living in Sage A?
I actually like being in Sage A because more of my friends come to my room than I think would come if I were in Mission, since Mission is kind of isolated on campus. Having two common rooms is very good because we have a central location for frosh to meet. Since we have such a natural location for a common room, it’s really easy for us to have a more connected sense of community.
Doesn’t Sage A have the smallest single on campus in it?
I don’t even know. I couldn’t verify that information. My room is definitely the smallest room I’ve had since I’ve been a student at Williams. It seems like every year I get cursed with a smaller room. Hopefully next year things will change, but it was just the luck of the draw.
You’re from Illinois. Has that affected your Williams experience?
Being from the Midwest is different. People from the Midwest are warmer in public. You can be walking down the street, and you see someone and you smile at them, and they smile back. Out here, as I learned very early on in freshman fall, that’s weird. Here we have a lot of people from metropolitan areas who aren’t as warm to strangers, waving and smiling at them, because they think that’s weird. That was a big cultural shock.
So when you were a first-year, did you just smile and wave at everyone you saw?
I guess. I would smile at strangers occasionally. Times have changed. I feel like I’m becoming a lot colder. The East Coast is starting to get to me.
But you were definitely prepared for the cold, right?
Yeah. And I love the snow out here. I think in Northern Illinois where I’m from it’s miserable. We have the lake effect, so when it snows it’s like the apocalypse. It’s like a blizzard all the time, and the snow is always really slushy, and it freezes in the ice, and it’s just really nasty.
Then I came out here and during Winter Study, it just did not stop snowing. It snowed every night. I really liked it. The snow would just fall so smoothly down to the ground.
Are you sad that your frosh aren’t getting the full Williams snow experience?
I’m sad for them. I am. I’m sad myself. I was recently talking to someone about us missing the blizzard that’s hitting the rest of the East Coast, and I said, some type of snow would be nice. In the winter, when everything’s desolate and dead, with the snow on the ground and on the trees and on the buildings, you don’t really notice. When there’s no snow, you just see how desolate the environment can be. It does make walking around campus a little bit easier. I miss the ice, though.
You miss icicles?
No, like black ice on the ground. I miss those emails [Dean of the College] Sarah Bolton would send, like, Hey, be careful walking out, you know, we’ve already had x amount of transports and x amount of medical visits, so be careful, there’s ice outside. I miss those emails.
Do you ski?
No. I was never really a big outdoors person. I didn’t even like playing outside.
But … you wanted to lead a WOOLF trip?
I did lead a WOOLF trip. [Laughs.] I told you there was less intentionality in being a WOOLF leader than being a JA.