Extended FAQs – Twin Oaks Membership Process

This is number 2 in the randomly occurring series which extends the answer provided in the Twin Oaks website FAQ section.  The first was on personal possessions.  And this post appends to the answer given about our membership process.  That answer is:

Basically, in order to become a member, a person needs to be willing to abide by the agreements of the community (e.g. no personal cars, our income-sharing agreements, and lots more). They also need to be able to fit into our social norms which, because we live so closely together, are quite particular (e.g. being sensitive to people’s “personal space”, being able to pick up social cues, being able to be cooperative and share control, etc).

The process for membership involves an interview with the Membership Team during a Three-Week Visitor Period. The interview consists of telling one’s life story, and answering questions about how one deals with various aspects of community living like conflict, anger, people with different values, etc. Then there is an input period during which all visitors leave Twin Oaks for some time, and have the opportunity to reflect on their experiences and decide if they really do think they want to live here. During this time, each member of the community has an opportunity to give input on the visitor (Accept, Visit Again, or Reject for membership). If there are outstanding health (including mental health) issues those will also be taken into consideration. The Membership Team makes the final decision about a visitor becoming a member.

While generally a fine answer, there are all kinds of things missing here.  The first is the complexity of Twin Oak’s own visitor and membership process.  We have no less than three separate teams inside the community to deal with this process.

arms around the globe

Another thing missing from this answer is that pretty consistently for the last 4 years the community has had a waiting list.   This means if you are in a big hurry to live in community (a state i would recommend no one be in) then Twin Oaks might well be a poor choice of places to come.  Some communities permit accepted visitors to stay indefinitely after their visitor period waiting for a space to open up.  Twin Oaks is not like this.  If accepted, expect to wait 3 months to a year.

One of our stronger rules is that after your visitor period (if you are applying for membership) you need to leave the community.  Usually, this is for at least one month.  This is part of our “anti-cult” orientation.  We want you after your visitor period to return to your family and friends.  If they can’t convince you that the idea of joining a commune is a little bit nuts, they you can come.

Don't drink the Koolaid

Don’t drink the Koolaid

And while it is true 95% of the time that that membership team makes the final decision on accepting, rejecting or visiting again a prospective new member, the remaining 5% of the time is interesting to consider.  While i complain about the internal decision making process in the commune, there are numerous well designed components of it.  How do we deal with splits within the community around membership?  A minority of the membership can reject a visitor or provisional member trying to become a full member, but this minority can be overridden by the majority.  One of the clever aspects of this policy is that the larger the minority rejecting someone, the larger the super majority must be to override them.  At something like 27% rejecting a person, it becomes impossible for the majority to override the minorities decision.

One of the community agreements not explicitly mentioned in the above FAQ is working quota.  During your visitor period you will get assigned a bunch of labor, including an incredible number of orientations.  Including these, you need to work your 42 hours of quota a week.  There are all manner of areas you can work in as a visitor.  Reliably the kitchen has cooking or dish washing cleaning help to offer.  We used to train people in hammocks, because they could always fill up their quota in this area.  Though this is less true these days and some visitor groups don;t even learn how to make hammocks these days.  And we are a bit unforgiving in this.  You stay with us three weeks, if you are interested in membership, you better work 42 hours each week – or have some compelling excuse for not working (remember being sick is labor creditable – to a point).  Visitors not making quota consistently lose their ability to apply for membership on that visit.

Another thing to be aware of is the commune has a second process step for people who are interested in membership who are 55 or older.  One of the policies i most dislike is out Age Cap policy.   It comes from an understandable place, when the average age of the community exceeds 43 years of age, we slow our acceptance of older members to not pre-maturely age the community.  And the reason this is relevant is that Twin Oaks has a very clever pension system, which slowly decreases the quota of members over age 49 by one hour per year.

The other membership cap is around gender.  While i think the community is increasingly well educated in the fluidity of gender (strong gender binaries are so twentieth century) we still maintain an existentialist policy when it comes to capping lopsided gender balances.  Specifically, if we end up with more than 60% male, we cap our admissions of men until we become more balanced.   It would be true for females as well, but this is not really our problem or any of the other FEC communities.  For slightly inexplicable reasons, many fewer women apply for membership at Twin Oaks and of those who do apply, a significantly smaller fraction of those we accept decide to come.  On the positive side of this imbalance (again for inexplicable reasons) women tend to have longer memberships on average then men.

Fortunately, in the 16 years i have been hanging around Twin Oaks, we have never hit this 60%/40% ratio, so unlike the age cap we have not implemented a gender cap to membershiping visitors.  Unfortunately, East Wind has not been so lucky and has had well over 60% male membership for a long time, which gets in the way of the problem correcting itself.

Our membership process is more complex

Our membership process is complex and carefully balanced

For a look at some of the other restrictions Twin Oaks puts on it’s member, take a look at this post on our most controversial approval.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

3 responses to “Extended FAQs – Twin Oaks Membership Process”

  1. Tree Bressen says :

    The statement that the reasons fewer wimmin apply and join is “slightly inexplicable” seems born of laziness. If you really want to know why you can find out. There are theories on this circulating (is it the messiness? the expectation of cmty permission for pregnancies? or are wimmin more adjusted to the world outside cmty and less rebellious?), you could establish metrics and run surveys/interview process to test those theories. However, given that gender cap has not hit in a long time, i can understand why labor credits would be spent on other activities instead.

    I remember my surprise back in 1990 when i arrived for my first viz period discovered that “Aja,” the visitor correspondent back then, was male. Ajack was using that derivation of his name in order to sound more female, and therefore less off-putting to potential wimmin visitors. His choice was a bit controversial among some members, but he felt the results were more important.

    • paxus says :

      Why dont you recruit more people of color, deaf people, trans people? There are all manner of self reflections we could do around recruiting – so perhaps we are lazy.

      But int he dozens of conversation i have had about this over the years, there is nothing like a consistent answer to these question of why fewer women want to visit or why few wish to join once accepted.

    • paxus says :

      To work the problem of why a bit harder. I have never found a woman who did not join the community because of the pregnancy process (tho we have rejected both men and women for refusing to use birth control). Messiness might be an important factor, i ahve not checked for this in the case of women (it is certainly a factor in blacks not wishing to join, i am told by knowledgeable folks).

      I would not assume women are less rebellious and thus less likely to apply and join. But i am not even sure how to measure this. And since Valerie’s efforts to balance visitor groups by gender are largely successful, as you say, we can focus on other issues.

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