The University of Richmond’s WILL* program is rebranding this academic year, adopting a new name, changing some aspects of its meetings and increasing its focus on effective communication of its mission and significance.

WILL* is a social justice and women, gender and sexuality studies-focused program that is open to women, transgender and nonbinary students. Members take a WGSS minor as part of the program.

WILL* leadership had decided to develop a strategic plan for the organization as it approaches its 40th anniversary in 2020, said associate director Melissa Ooten. 

The program has changed a lot since its inception. And although it was not feasible to try to plan for the next 40 years, thinking about the next few was viable.

“We can think about what the next three to five years are going to look like, so it remains as vibrant of an organization and as relevant as it’s been in the past,” Ooten said.

To formulate the strategic plan, WILL* worked with two consultants from The Spark Mill, a Richmond consulting firm. One of these consultants, Mariah Williams, ’14, is a WILL* alumna, although Ooten and WILL* executive director Holly Blake had not known this initially, Blake said.

Last spring semester, the consultants worked with WILL*, listening to feedback from members, WILL* alumni, faculty members, staff members and schools that have adopted programs based on WILL*, Blake said.

The consultants made recommendations based on the feedback, and a three to five-year strategic plan was completed in the spring. The implementation of the plan starts this semester.

Perhaps the most significant change coming to the program is a new name, which likely will be rolled out next semester. Although Blake and Ooten said the details of how the name should be written out had not yet been determined, the current tentative name is “will: a call to action," with the program's name in bold font.  

Blake emphasized that the program under the new name will continue to be open to women, transgender and nonbinary students. 

There are multiple motivations behind the name change. One of them stems from the program’s original name, WILL, as an acronym standing for Women Involved in Living and Learning. Although the name stopped being used as an acronym several years ago, it continues to be written in all capital letters, which can create confusion, Blake said.

“Because it’s all been caps, people still ask the question, ‘Well, what does it stand for?’” Blake said. “We just want to get away from that. It’s just will, will the action, 'how will you change the world?'”

The new name’s focus is on the meaning of "will" as a verb and as an action. 

“It’s the same but it’s different,” said sophomore Olive Gallmeyer, WILL* education chair. “So we are still WILL*, but we’re switching kind of the meaning behind that name, so we’re using it as the verb will, so it’s like 'I will do this, I will make a change.'

“We’re a group that’s very much focused on putting theory into action, and we very much like that behind our name as well.”

Program members have brainstormed potential taglines that can be used with the new name. These taglines and the graphic design of materials with the updated name will be important to communicating it and its meanings to the campus community, Ooten said.

“[We’ll be] figuring out what of the three or four or five [taglines] that we want to use and how do we visually represent those,” Ooten said, “And what we love about it is that it’s, WILL* means different things to different people, so it helps us capture the diversity within the program.”

Although WILL*’s requirements and goals have not changed, there will be changes in the structure of the organization’s meetings. Executive team meetings will have built-in time for discussing what is going on on campus and in the world, Blake said. 

Gallmeyer said they were particularly looking forward to having this discussion time in meetings.

“A lot of organizations get very bogged down in kind of the planning everything and making sure that we have everything in place for the events that we want to do that we don’t really take the time to look forward and examine what we’re really doing,” Gallmeyer said. “Since we’re a program that’s all about social justice and making changes in our community, we really thought that it’d be important to take that time every once in a while to look around and see what’s really happening.”

With the changes to the program comes an increased focus on effective communication of what WILL* is. Blake and Ooten said they hoped clear branding surrounding the new name and increased clarity of what the program is about through a new mission, vision and values statement will help WILL* members more effectively explain the program to others.

WILL* will have a designated skill training session next semester to help members explain the program to potential employers, said junior and WILL* president Helen Li.

WILL* also aims to improve understanding of the organization among members of the campus community, Gallmeyer said.

“I think a lot of the goal is making a more clear campus presence, so I think a lot of people when I say, ‘Oh, I’m in the WILL* program,’ it’s just saying, ‘What is that?’” Gallmeyer said. “We’ve been around for 40 years, so people should know who we are.

“We’re really making sure to get the message out loud and clear who we are, what we do, make that stronger presence on campus. That’s something I’m really looking forward to finding more ways to engage with that, more ways to engage with the campus community.” 

Contact copy chief Savannah Wilson at savannah.wilson@richmond.edu.