WOOLF removes leader gender cap

March 9, 2016 by Neena Patel, News Editor

This year, the 2017 Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-Years (WOOLF) program directors, Abigail Robinson ’17 and Jonathan Greeno ’17, eliminated gender caps for leaders. Instead of accepting an equal number of males and females and pairing them up to lead groups, the directors decided not to consider the gender of applicants in the selection process.

WOOLF is an orientation program for first-years during First Days. It is part of a wider selection of such programs including Exploring the Arts, Leading Minds, ROOT, Team Eph and Where am I?!.

WOOLF, which was established in 1978 and is the most popular orientation program, sends students into the woods for four days to camp and backpack through the Berkshires. There are backpacking, trail-service, canoeing and rock climbing trips. All leaders are trained in Wilderness First Aid, trip-specific skills and leadership. Each trip is led by two sophomore leaders.

“This year, we decided to select our leaders based on qualifications alone, irrespective of gender. As a result of that, we are making the option to have a co-leader of your same gender available to all WOOLF leaders if they are interested,” Robinson said.

76 students were named leaders after a two-month process of selection. This year more males were accepted as leaders than females. As a result, some groups will be lead by two sophomores of the same gender.

Robinson and Greeno decided midway through the application process that WOOLF leaders would not be selected based on gender. As a result, they read applications on a basis that was not gender blind before this change. They followed the protocol that directors had used in the past. “Our final leader count proved to be an uneven number of males and females because of this freedom we allowed ourselves,” Robinson said.

The directors say they made the change with the intention of selecting leaders based solely on merit. “We wanted to make sure we selected the best WOOLF leaders possible, regardless of gender,” Robinson said. Robinson and Greeno could not disclose specifics about their applicant pool but stated that they “currently have 76 leaders we are thrilled about working with.”

At the moment, they are unsure of how this change will work. “As with any change, we don’t really know how this will pan out until we see it first hand. We hope to see our WOOLF leaders picking cos that they are truly excited about,” Robinson said.

As of now, they say they have not received any opposition. “We welcome input and are planning on having a WOOLF feedback session for the community to see how we can improve sometime in the next few weeks,” Robinson said.

Robinson expressed uncertainty about the implications of this change for the entry system and other orientation programs. “Our commitment as directors is to the WOOLF program, and this is a change we see to be positive and exciting for our situation,” Robinson said. “We made this decision for WOOLF and can’t speak to any changes other programs may make.”

In addition to the change in the leadership selection process, the directors also added a new position, assistant director of WOOLF, which will be held by Will Duke ’17.

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Recent Alum March 9, 2016 at 5:15 am

Removing the gender cap for WOOLF leaders seems good in some ways but not others. It’s a good thing that students who do not identify with the male or female gender will feel more comfortable applying to lead, and leading WOOLF trips. However, I worry that this change will simply result in there being more male than female WOOLF leaders every year. I’m concerned for a few reasons: men might tend to have stronger ‘outdoor leadership CVs’ due to how they were socialized as kids, outing club activities can tend to be male-dominated (depending on the year), and there could be implicit bias in many parts of the application (letters, application review, interviews) that can result in men being perceived as more ‘competent’ or ‘charismatic.’ I think that a policy that made it easier for someone who was gender non-conformist to become a WOOLF leader, but did not give implicit biases (which are strongly present on campus, I think) so much latitude would be preferable to this recent change to policy.

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