The Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips program, which has been historically limited to students who can afford the trip, has made increasing efforts to diversify its membership and promote inclusivity.
Earlier this month, preorientation leaders, first-year counselors and peer liaisons gathered in an auditorium to hear professional counselors discuss microaggressions and privilege. The leaders of FOOT, a program that has been financially independent from the University since its founding, previously discussed inclusivity in informal student-led discussions. This year’s shift toward more standardized and University-run diversity programming is part of a broader effort among FOOT management to increase minority representation on all its trips.
FOOT is also currently raising funds from both alumni and current students in an effort to expand its financial aid offerings.
Liam Arnade-Colwill ’19, a current FOOT leader, noted a recent push within the FOOT community to expand the available financial aid to help students cover hiking gear and the program fee, which ranges from $435 to $460 depending on the length of the trip. He added that the additional cost of equipment and the necessity of arriving on campus in late August also present barriers for some students.
While FOOT Director Priscilla Kellert declined to comment on the exact amount of aid the program gives to incoming students, financial assistance is completely dependent on the FOOT budget. FOOT is self-funded, meaning that it does not receive additional resources from the Yale College Dean’s Office for financial aid.
While Kellert said incoming students are required to fill out an application before they receive any aid from FOOT, students who already receive any amount of financial assistance from the Financial Aid Office are allowed to attend Cultural Connections — an on-campus preorientation established by the College at which students discuss identity and culture in an effort to acclimate to Yale — at zero cost.
And students interviewed by the News suggested that incoming freshmen from lower-income backgrounds may be deterred from taking a FOOT trip for a wide range of reasons.
“I had never done anything like FOOT before, so I wasn’t sure if doing it the week before college would be the right time. I would have been more open to it if it was more affordable,” said Mallet Njonkem ’18. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to expect, so I didn’t want to pay to have a bad experience.”
A four-day FOOT trip costs $435 per student, and a six-day trip costs $460. By comparison, the cost to attend the five-day Cultural Connections program for a student on zero financial aid is $200.
Cultural Connections leaders suggested that freshmen who choose to enroll in Cultural Connections do so for the community it provides, rather than financial incentives.
“Students who choose to attend Cultural Connections do so because they are interested in learning and talking about diversity,” said Chelsey Clark ’17, co-head counselor for the 2016 program.
Clark added that the program offers students the opportunity to develop relationships with older students, engage with professors and connect with other first-year students who care about similar issues.
While Kellert declined to give specific information about FOOT’s racial demographics, she said FOOT is “well-represented in Asian, Hispanic and, obviously, white groups. But one group that we would love to have more of is African-American.”
She also underscored other forms of diversity that are currently well-represented in FOOT’s membership, which include national origin, religion and sexual orientation.
FOOT administrators have worked to diversify both the membership and the leadership of its trips by reaching out to Yale’s four cultural houses to advertise FOOT trip leader positions. According to FOOT leader Marisa London ’18, FOOT has also held office hours based on shared identities, including race, class, gender and sexuality, to introduce prospective leaders to current FOOT leaders who identify with these topics.
Still, London noted that on both her FOOT training trip and the freshman group she led in August, she was the sole black woman. In these situations, London said she felt comfortable talking about her experiences with the group.
FOOT advertises the program on the admitted student website and during Bulldog Days.