Shoeless in Seattle, and now at Yale

As Sofia Fenner ’07 and her mother trudged up four flights of stairs to her room in Durfee Hall on move-in-day, Fenner, as usual, was paying a great deal attention to where she was walking. Of course, all the freshmen were probably paying a lot of attention to where they were going too, right? So this was no different? Wrong. Fenner was paying extra attention, like she always does, because she was not wearing shoes.

Fenner, a freshman from Seattle, began going barefoot all the time about a year ago — almost by accident. Self-professed to be the most radical girl in her grade, Fenner had always worn flip-flops all year long, claiming it never got too hot or too cold. She eventually got tired of wearing sandals all the time, though, and decided to simply not wear shoes. It stuck.

“You learn a lot more about the world when you are barefoot in it than if you are not,” Fenner said. “You have to pay attention to where you’re going, and you learn new things.”

The longer Fenner continued to go without shoes, the more she enjoyed it and the more interesting facts she picked up on. Fenner learned that it was legal to drive barefoot, as long as she had a pair of shoes physically in the car with her. She learned that supermarket floors are extremely cold and walking on gravel was not a great idea.

She also learned that she would be refused service unless she wore shoes to eating establishments, including dining halls.

“When I asked them why I couldn’t be barefoot,” Fenner said, “they responded, ‘for sanitary reasons.’ But there’s nothing on my feet that I wouldn’t have on the bottom of my shoes!”

Surprisingly, Fenner hasn’t faced much direct opposition.

Professors have not commented on her lack of shoes in classes, and even her roommates, she said, never made a big deal of the matter. Her parents, both of whom served in the Peace Corps, also never objected to her shoeless preference. One thing, however, does bother Fenner.

“I have a hard time with people who say, ‘I hate feet,’” Fenner said. “Feet are darn useful. I like them.”

And how has she fared at Yale, on the streets of New Haven? Her habits have not changed. Her uncle, whose daughter also attends Yale, did, however, warn Fenner before she got here.

“Just don’t step on any syringes,” he told her.

So Fenner is careful; she always pays attention. She thinks such attention is an advantage. As a result, whenever she goes to class, she goes barefoot. When she goes to the gym, she goes barefoot (although she admits to wearing shoes on the rowing machine). What’s the worst place to walk though?

“In front of Toad’s is the worst,” Fenner said.

Interestingly enough, though, Fenner does not hate shoes. She just waits for the right occasion to wear them. She went to her senior prom barefoot, but she admits that she does love a pair of shoes she owns that are black and lace all the way up.

Though she currently has no specific plans for the future, Fenner admits that she may have to drag her black lace-up shoes out of the closet once she lands a job.

“It’s going to be hard if I get a job where I have to wear shoes,” Fenner said. “But I wouldn’t turn down the job.”

The lingering question: What will Sophia do in the winter?

“Someone recommended Birkenstock clogs to me,” Fenner admitted. “I might just do that. We’ll see.”

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