Photo Credit Jan Garrison
With 'whoa' friends, trusted adults
February 20, 2020

“Post-holing” is a term in winter hiking that refers to someone sinking their entire leg into new snow. It makes for exhaustive and agonizingly-slow walking. It also can make the trail dangerous for anyone following you. It is why people wear snowshoes.

It is also a term that Brooklyn Wheeler Raney ’03 uses in describing many of the problems students may be facing today. Raney told a Culver Academies all-school session Wednesday that post holes can come in different forms: technology addiction, bullying and violence, sexual behavior, depression and anxiety, unhealthy dietary and physical activity habits, and substance abuse. These all can impact students’ lives.

She borrowed the term after working with a group of students on a winter hike in New Hampshire. One boy refused to wear snowshoes in the new snow, so he continued to post-hole along the trail. She was serving as the sweep – the person who brings up the rear – and they were quickly falling farther and farther behind the group.

As it got later and colder, she finally gave the boy an ultimatum between wearing snowshoes or being hauled down the trail on a sled by the park’s rescue team – with her sitting behind him. He chose to wear the snowshoes, finished the trail, but quickly took them off before anyone from the rest of the group could see he had put them on.

Brooklyn Wheeler Raney ’03 at Wednesday’s all-school meeting.

To stay out of these post-hole situations – where you make poor decisions – it is important for everyone to have people in their lives they can trust. Everyone needs a “WHOA (Wait, Hold-on, OMG, Aaaa) friend” and trusted adults to help keep them out of such situations, she explained.

A whoa friend is someone who shows doubt and speaks up when the rest of crowd is turning from thinkers into “zombies,” Raney explained. And becoming a social zombie is easier than you think.

In a social influencing experiment originated by Solomon Asch, students were asked to study the length of four lines, then identify the two that matched. People were planted in the group of teens to give the wrong answer even though the correct one was obvious. Yet, two-thirds of the remaining teens agreed with the plants. But if one person showed doubt and said the correct answer, 95 percent of the people would agree with the dissenter.

Social influencing experiment

Raney explained being a whoa friend takes a “Gut, Guts and Gusto.” The gut refers to your instinct, as in “trust your gut.” If something doesn’t feel right in your gut, it will trigger “whoa” in your head, she said.

Guts is social courage, which takes “muscle memory.” Standing up for yourself, someone else, or what you believe in takes practice. And it is ongoing. It is not a singular heroic act.

Gusto is being the best whoa friend you can be. Everyone needs a great whoa friend.

Raney added that, like whoa friends, students should also have at least one trusted adult in their lives. A trusted adult is a person the student can rely on that is not a parent. That person must be present, reliable, and trustworthy.

In her book “Untangled,” psychologist Lisa Damour describes the relationship between children and parents as going from jelly beans to Brussels sprouts, Raney said. When the children are young, everything is sweet and nice. But as the kids begin to go through adolescence, the relationship can start to turn bitter like Brussels sprouts. That is where the trusted adults come in.

And that trusted adult can come in many different forms. One of Raney’s was Culver Education Foundation Trustee Emeritus Joe Levy Jr. ’43, she said. While they only spoke for any length twice, they maintained a 10-year correspondence, which consisted mostly of a series of humorous thank you notes. But she knew from those notes that Levy would be there if she needed him, she said.

But trusted adults are not present to make things easier for you, she told the students, and they are only as useful as you let them be. Fortunately, she added, Culver students are surrounded by them. She felt like she had 200 while she was here.

And her Culver experience has contributed greatly to her work. She told the students they were in the “absolute best environment” for developing youth. Two institutions she helped establish, Generation Change and the Girls Leadership Camp, follow many of the same principles she learned at Culver.

After Culver, Raney graduated from Colgate University, where she continued to play hockey, in 2007. She received her master’s degree in educational theater from New York University, and then returned to Culver for two years before going to Kimball Union Academy. She spent more than 10 years in roles such as director of residential curriculum, assistant dean of students, dean of students, and dean of community life.

Raney is the author of the book, One Trusted Adult, and a workshop facilitator, speaker, and consultant for schools, camps, and youth-serving organizations. She is spending three days on campus, conducting workshops with faculty, staff, and students. Her visit to Culver is sponsored by the Class of 1962 Student Enrichment Fund.

Share This:
Posted in Alumni Culver Academies Faculty International Leadership Parents Student Life
Related Stories