Hugs vs hand shakes at opening ceremony

I am a team parent and I was very disappointed that during opening ceremony at Championship, the male winners of the Dean’s List award received hand shakes and the female winners received hugs. I found this extremely disrespectful to the women and very unprofessional. I wrote to FIRST about it and received this completely unacceptable excuse:

“…What could not be seen on the screen or from the stands was that nearly all of the young women award winners approached the stage with jubilation and tears of joy. From that perspective, the response of these three caring gentlemen seemed appropriate…”

I was actually in disbelief when I read this. The “caring gentlemen” were justified to comfort the emotional women by hugging them? Plenty of the young men I saw “approached the stage with jubilation,” yet they were not hugged.

I’m not sure what to do from here. I was hoping for a much better response like…Thanks for calling that to our attention, we will amend that policy immediately and treat all genders equally, since that is what we advocate for in our programs.

Unfortunately, I think you’ll continue to be disappointed. FIRST has not done a great job of being as progressive and well-informed on this subject as one would expect given the way they advocate for introducing girls to STEM.

I agree that it was very unusual how that happened and I wondered about it myself. I assumed that from the 300 level I could not notice body language that the presenters picked up on.

May I ask what you are wanting to come from this thread? There was a similar one about making women (and girls) feel welcome in STEM that got heated (for a lack of a better term). Can you specify what you want to discuss here so we can prevent that?

Not seeing a real issue here… As a matter of fact, what is the issue here? Is it women not receiving equal treatment as men by receiving a hug while a male recieved a handshake? If that’s the case I don’t see it as an issue at all or treating women diffrient.

You look at this years WFA winner, a male, he recieved a hug from both men and women. I can remember multiple instances where a male has recieved a hug after winning a award.

Now I dont have the video nor do I remember it as well as I’d like to but I believe the male recipient extended a hand giving body language of a handshake as the female had more of a hug body language.

I’m sure if the male were to have more of a hug body language he would have gotten a hug and if the female winner extended a hand I’m sure she would have gotten a handshake and not just an automatic hug.

In my family, I handshake my male relatives and hug my female relatives. My father was a very stand-offish person. He still never gives hugs. My mother was the opposite. So that’s what I learned. I was absolutely shocked the first time my father-in-law hugged me. When I get together with my relatives, I give handshakes to the males and hug the females. When we’re congratulating teams members, I handshake some, high five others, and hug still others.

Does that make me gender biased? I hardly think so, and I’ll state flat out that I’m not. Part of always acting like your grandmother is watching is to not going looking for problems. A hug or a handshake, a high five or a back slap. I don’t think these are really things we need to critique. If it affects you personally, then ask the person not to do it again. That’s your personal space and you can expect that others will respect it.

I’m sure someone is going to say that I’m glossing over something that is clearly an issue. But I think the idea of learning tolerance and acceptance to understand that other folks may not act exactly the way you do. Different people act in different ways. Different cultures treat hugging and handshaking very differently too. I’m not going to expect them to change either just because I prefer one over the other.

While I understand your frustration as valid and agree that FIRST could (read: should) be more understanding and informed, I’m really not sure that the hug/handshake thing had much to do with gender.

I won Dean’s List in 2014, and after reading this post I was trying to remember what we all had done. I know I (embarrassingly/frantically) shook hands with everyone on stage. I remembered all the others doing the same. So I looked up the awards ceremony from that year ( and turns out, it was pretty much hand shakes all around.

I also looked up 2015, after the Dean’s List Ceremony got moved to the big stage ( Here, Dean hugs everyone, while Don switches between hugs/high fives/hand shakes and Woodie switches between hand shakes/hugs. I think with most of the students and besides with Dean hugging everyone, most of the students initiated the hug/hand shake, but maybe others see something different.

I couldn’t find video for this year, and while I watched the ceremony, I can’t recall exactly what happened.

My closing point is that I think a lot of it has to do with how a person is, not necessarily what gender they present. Some people like hugs, some people don’t, and the precedence of what is ‘correct’ on the stage, I think, changes from year to year based on the group, what the first person does, etc…

(That being said, as mentioned in many threads before, FIRST & STEM have problems with including/welcoming young women, definitely agree with you there.)

I’m sorry, but I really don’t see what the problem is here. Hugs or handshakes, how can either of those things be used in a discriminatory fashion?

I simply hug or handshake based on what I/they feel comfortable with, not based on whether they’re a woman or not.

Well, I can’t really say you glossed over anything. Because you nailed that topic perfectly.

Good grief…are we aiming to be the perfect PC organization or inspire young minds about STEM. Many things are different in this world - that’s what makes it exciting. If everything were the same how boring would that be…

Based on the video review above, I’m not sure this is a huge problem. In fact, I might have more of a problem with FIRST’s response to the OP.

Do you ask the person which they prefer, do you wait for them to make the first move, or do you take a guess what they’re comfortable with and hope they go with it? If the latter, there’s a chance you’re discriminating by gender without even realising.

Personally, I just don’t hug very much at robotics. I think the last one was when one of our (male) Dean’s List nominees moved on to the State Championship.

This is pretty much what it boils down to. 4901 has huggers, and 4901 has anti-huggers. It doesn’t break down along gender lines, and I imagine we aren’t alone there. Was this some concerted plot by Dean/Woodie/Don? Probably not–I’d bet a dollar that it didn’t even cross their minds at the ceremony. Nothing crazy, nobody died, but I do agree with OP that “handshake or high-five unless the kid makes a move for a hug” should be in the notes for next year.

Part of inspiring young minds is to make it clear that all the young minds are welcome. Some people really don’t get down with hugs, or clothespin games, or face painting, or tomatoes, or whatever. If the kid goes for a hug, we’ve got empirical evidence that Dean/Woodie/Don are okay with hugs too. But it probably shouldn’t be the default greeting they go for unless the kid makes the first move.

Curious which the OP thinks should be the standard?

I’m under the impression that the ‘right’ thing to do is, like many posters here before, to watch the body language of the recipient and then do what they’re expecting.

As a man of 50, I was taught that you don’t extend to shake a lady’s hand, at an introduction, instead you watch her and if she begins to put her hand out, then you shake. I’ve made my four daughters aware of this, so they will actually know what to expect from men my age in business.

And yes, I believe the best bet, even today, is to watch the other person.
Also, there are lots of different kinds of hugs. Let the other person decide.


I don´t want to be disrespectful.
I really don´t see any difference between hugs and handshakes. Actually I agree with the fact that the body language says what we should do at the moment

I can guarantee to you there is no diference, I´m Brazilian, I live in Brazil and we hug everybody, even who we don´t know yet. And there is no big deal on hugging or touching or handshaking, what matters is the accomplishment the person has achieved (Dean´s List for exemple) and the fact that this person in on stage, being recognized for the achievement, and being applauded for everybody. In my opinion that counts much more.

Every year we face many problems with that, because MANY of you don´t like to be touched or hugged and that is something very unusual for us and it can make us very uncomfortable.

As I said, I really don´t want to be disrespectful, jut want to contribute to the debate.

Clearly our society has an issue getting young women to enter and stay in STEM fields, so I appreciate the dialogue. However, on this issue, I simply do not believe this to be a negative message. Treating someone with respect by giving them a hug is not a problem. Let’s keep our efforts to the true issues that keep young women from STEM.

One thing to keep in mind is: How did the winner approach the men? Did she strongly approach and put out her hand for a shake? Because if she did, it would have been met with a handshake.

All this Political Correctness is paralyzing our society. There is no definitive right and wrong because everyone has a different idea of what “right” and “wrong” is.

The way Dean, Woodie and Don greeted the 2016 Dean’s List Finalists irked my wife and I as well.

I’m not usually vocal around these topics, but when you greet 20 young professionals in a row, I believe a handshake is the baseline, acceptable way to convey appreciation and recognition.

That said, some students may have an overwhelming sense of jubilation, which prompts them to initiate some sort of less-than-professional (but still authentic) expression such as a hug. That is great!

The issue was, women got the default arms out for a hug from Dean, while men got the hand stretched out for a shake.

Also, as a YPP trained professional, I work to avoid “frontal hugging”, especially with young women, and especially with young women I do not know. I would certainly not be the one to intiate the hug in front of many other mentors and students.

This is not your uncle hugging their niece. These are professionals congratulating young professionals on their accomplishments. It should be treated as such, and serve as a model to all the mentors and students watching the ceremony.


Well said, Mike. I noticed it too, as did some other mentors I was discussing this with. This hugging of the Dean’s list girls and shaking hands with the boys was very uncomfortable.

For me, if I greet a boy or man, it’s not too hard to know if we are gonna hug or not. I am very comfortable hugging a man, especially if he is my friend.

If the other person is a boy, girl, or woman, I wait to take their cue if the greeting will be a hug or not. It depends on the situation and relationship. I definitely should not expect or initiate a hug when greeting a female colleague.

I agree that this is not a trivial issue.

Andy B.

Well said. The ‘frontal hugging’ is something any sensible mentor knows isn’t something we should be initiating, so why are the adults up on stage doing it?

It bothers me too. It happens with Male vs. Female VIPS/speakers as well.

I don’t think that it’s any sort of intentional slight or conscious choice by Dean, Don or Woodie - but as others have said earlier in the thread, it’s just the way they’ve been taught to interact throughout their lives. Not trying to make an excuse… the behavior should change. It may truly be something they’ve never even thought about.

Another, entirely separate thing that bothers me is that it’s all old (sorry guys, just tellin’ it like it is) white men up there, and there’s no diversity in the people who are giving out the award. To me, that emphasizes the divide even more. That horse has probably been beaten enough, but against the backdrop of 20 very diverse, outstanding student leaders across FIRST programs, it really stood out to me this year.

I noticed that female = hugs, male = handshake, and apparently many others did also. It didn’t appear to be based on body language as many have indicated on this thread. From my viewpoint it gave me an uncomfortable feeling.