I have ended the summer and begun school in the same way for the last three years: on a mountaintop at sunrise with new friends. I was fortunate enough to be chosen as a FOOT leader in the spring of my freshman year, and I appreciate the honor and responsibility that comes with being the first (albeit sweaty) face that freshmen see as they begin life at Yale. Of course, I also cherish the vibrant, positive FOOT leader community off the trail, a community that came under harsh criticism Monday.
Every organization has its flaws, and FOOT is no exception. I do believe that self-examination is a valuable exercise. However, I feel that Nicolas Kemper (“Overcoming our FOOT fetish,” Feb. 28) has misidentified those flaws through a poorly reasoned argument, and has unfairly represented the organization. My initial reactions to his column were strong and averse; however, I respect Nick’s position as one of the co-coordinators of Yale Outdoors, and hope to engage in some productive dialogue.
Kemper asks why FOOT requires such selectivity. On a practical level, the number of FOOT leaders accepted correlates directly to the approximate number of freshmen who enroll in the program. Even if we accepted 600 leaders, 450 would end up standing around doing nothing. Additionally, FOOT is limited by its resources and financial constraints. We can only equip and feed so many people, and we can only provide so much financial aid to leaders on a budget.
Most importantly, FOOT provides a service, and as such, requires quality control.
We’re not an organization that’s predicated solely on the outdoors — that would be Yale Outdoors, a well-respected organization that is fortunately open to everyone with a passion for nature. Neither do we claim a monopoly over the outdoors or welcoming freshmen to Yale. We’re one of several organizations devoted to freshmen, and we have an application process just as many other student groups on campus do. Why does Kemper not criticize Cultural Connections counselors, or the Harvest application process? What about Tour Guides? Don’t we all love Yale? Why can’t everyone be a FroCo who wants to? His argument seems to imply that anything selective is bad.
But FOOT is not exclusive for the sake of being exclusive. It is not a society that has come together for purely social purposes. We are a large group of friends who are unified by the work we do, just like any organization on campus. A tight knit group of FOOT leaders helps us project a consistently positive tone for incoming freshman, which is vital for the success of the trips.
Inevitably, some organizations are more unified than others. While I can empathize with the pain of being rejected from something, I refuse to apologize for having a strong community.
Of course, like all selection processes, the FOOT leader selection process can be arbitrary. When you’re choosing from a pool of people of such high quality, some worthy applicants can slip through the cracks. I, too, know many people who were practically overqualified to be FOOT leaders and didn’t make it. In years past there has been the appearance of nepotism; it’s something that the Core Heads (what is essentially the “FOOT board”) discussed on our retreat, and we’ve decided to make our selection process more transparent as a result. Ultimately, we’re dedicated to getting those who are best at accomplishing FOOT’s goal: making freshmen feel safe and at home in a foreign environment.
That being said, I have great deal of faith in the selection process, and hope to remove some of the mystique surrounding it. It’s incredibly egalitarian, with over 60 members of the organization involved. It is also thorough, with a written application (which gets read three times), two letters of recommendation, an interview, and two sets of verbal deliberations for each applicant. The decision-making is largely decentralized, so there’s no mob mentality when it comes to a particular applicant. We had almost 200 applicants this year, and I’m proud of the equal consideration we gave each of them.
I was disappointed with the lack of time Kemper spent on proposing solutions to the perceived exclusivity of FOOT. Reselecting leaders year after year is not only inefficient, but redundant, as returning leaders tend to be stronger than those who have never led before. We could have a “FOOT 2.0” for non-freshmen as Kemper suggests, where anyone could come and hang out in the woods before school starts, but that would be an entirely different organization with a different purpose. Maybe Yale Outdoors could pursue something of that nature — I know I’d be tempted to sign up.
I will say that Nick is right about one thing: our goal shouldn’t be to create an exclusive environment, but rather to make Yale a warm and welcoming place for all who enter it for the first time. Being a FOOT leader is just one of the many opportunities Yalies have to do so.
Raffi Friedman is a junior in Trumbull College and a FOOT leader.