Penn State University’s Outing Club (PSOC) was founded in 1920 and has offered students an affordable chance at partaking in outdoor adventure trips for over nine decades. But that comes to an end this semester: the student-led organization was notified earlier this month by the university that they were no longer allowed to lead outdoor adventures.
In an announcement on their website, PSOC said, “This is a result of an assessment of risk management by the university that determined that the types of activities in which PSOC engages are above the university’s threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette dug deeper into the story and found that the two-month review by the university's offices of Student Affairs and Risk Management did not include consultation with student Outing Club leaders.
“Safety is a legitimate concern, but it wasn’t an open dialogue,” 2017-2018 Outing Club President Richard Waltz told the Post-Gazette. “What’s happening to the club is a shame and negatively impacts the student experience.”
Furthermore, the Outing Club’s treasurer Timothy Hackett said he was not aware of a single injury on any outing during the four years he has been at PSU. He also said the PSOC has not seen this risk assessment report.
Partaking in activities like hiking, canoeing, kayaking, trail building and camping certainly comes with an inherent degree of risk. So do the activities of the Nittany Grotto Caving Club and the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club, which were given the same fate as PSOC during the reviews of all 79 campus recreation-supported student groups. But groups that passed include the Archery Club, Boxing Club, Alpine Ski Racing Club and Rifle Club.
“Student safety in any activity is our primary focus,” Penn State University spokeswoman Lisa Powers told the Post-Gazette in an email.
There is also a university-led organization called the Outdoor Adventures program, which runs many trips to similar remote locations with similarly risky activities. But Ms. Powers said that program’s staff and leaders are better trained and more experienced.
Outgoing Outing Club president Waltz noted these are two very different entities though. As he told the Post-Gazette, “The two programs offer very different experience. The Outing Club is very accepting and welcoming of students who may be out experiencing nature for the first time in a meaningful way. Participants learn organically and develop more of a mentor-mentee relationship over the years.”
The Post-Gazette notes that the Outing Club collects a $20 dues payment at the beginning of each semester, then charges $5 to $10 for trips. Counting gear, food and gasoline, each participant would typically pay $25 per trip. The cost of Outdoor Adventure trips were bumped up from between $30 and $60 last year, to between $90 and $130 this year.
After being informed of the decision, PSOC launched an online survey concerning the matter. They also received plenty of support from commenters, many of whom are past PSOC members.
The club currently claims 169 members, but their Facebook group boasts over 1,800 members — many of whom are alumni members. They are currently exploring all possibilities for the club in the future. Their ability to lead trips remains up in the air, but hopefully they can continue to serve the community they’ve created for the last 98 years.
Incoming PSOC president Christina Platt understands why PSU made the decision they did, but also disagrees with it: “Our increasingly litigious society is making it far more difficult for people to get outside without the fear of lawsuits for any misstep. I can hardly blame Penn State for protecting itself against further litigation after a number of high-profile scandals in the past decade.”
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