After 98 years on campus, Penn State University’s Outing Club has been banned from going on university-sanctioned outings beginning next semester, the group announced in a Facebook post.
The group held its last meeting at Black Forest Trail in Pennsylvania’s Tiadaghton State Forest over the weekend and extending into Monday, according to its page hosted on the university website.
The 42-mile trail is known for hazards including severe weather, poison ivy, bears, rattlesnakes and ticks.
Despite zero injuries over at least the past four years, the school determined ‘that the types of activities in which PSOC engages are above the University’s threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations,’ the group’s official notice to members read.
After 98 years on campus, Penn State University’s Outing Club has been banned from going on university-sanctioned outings; Group members are seen here on Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks
‘Student safety in any activity is our primary focus,’ Penn State University spokesperson Lisa Powers wrote in an email to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Powers said the decision came after 15 months of meetings between university staff members from the Campus Recreation, Risk Management and Student Activities offices and the Outing Club’s faculty adviser and student leaders, which focused on safety concerns related to the club’s activities and practices, and ‘how those activities can be more safely pursued.’
But the decision regarding ending events organized by the PSOC was made by the university’s offices of Student Affairs and Risk Management after a two-month review, conducted without input from the PSOC, according to the group.
The decision regarding ending events organized by the PSOC was made by the university’s offices of Student Affairs and Risk Management after a two-month review, conducted without input from the PSOC, according to the group
A PSOC member is seen here hiking at Shenandoah National Park in a photo posted on April 4
Club leaders talked to the club adviser and university staff about the safety issues, but did not have any involvement with the risk assessment office that made the decision to curtail their outings, Richard Waltz, the Outing Club’s 2017-2018 president, said.
‘Safety is a legitimate concern, but it wasn’t an open dialogue,’ Waltz said. ‘What’s happening to the club is a shame and negatively impacts the student experience.’
The club’s current treasurer, Timothy Hackett, said he wasn’t aware of any injuries at outings headed up by the PSOC over the last four years.
But Powers said injuries weren’t a factor in the determination, which instead rested on PSOC’s planning of events in remote environments with poor cell phone service, and sometimes far from emergency services.
Hackett also noted that the group, which boasted 169 members this year, had worked closely with the university’s staff-run Outdoor Adventures program, which offers similar activities and trips, at a greater cost to students.
PSOC members jump for joy while on a hike in a photo shared to the group’s Facebook page
Students overlook the vastness of nature beneath them while taking a rest during a hike
For example, PSOC has historically collected a $20 member fee at the beginning of each semester with charges for individual trips ranging from $5 to $10. After adding in extra costs for gear, food and tranportation, each participant would typically pay $25 per excursion.
In contrast, the cost of Outdoor Adventure trips ranges from $90 to $130, Waltz said, which is up this year from years past, when the cost looked more like $30 to $60.
‘The two programs offer very different experiences,’ Waltz said. ‘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 PSOC leader said they incorporated changes this year, as well, to fully comply with all university policies, by including more stringent trip leader and safety officer qualifications, more detailed trip planning and evacuation contingencies and lower leader-to-participant ratios.
The group rests near water in Rock Run, Pennsylvania in a photo shared on April 26, 2016
Six students are shown here on a trail at Weiser State Forest in March 2016
Powers, however, said the Outdoor Adventures program’s staff and student leaders are still better trained and more experienced than PSOC leaders.
Despite the official end to a nearly 100-year tradition on campus, student leaders are committed to making sure current and future Nittany Lions have other options to turn to when they’d rather get outdoors than stay in the campus scene.
‘The community that has grown around the Outing Club is not going anywhere. The officers of the club have been working diligently with our club advisor and Penn State staff to find the appropriate structure within the University to continue to foster this ever-growing outdoor community,’ the group said in its statement.
‘We are pursuing multiple avenues for continuing this great community and are making progress each day. We will continue to update you through our ListServ, official Facebook page, and at general meetings as we move forward.’
But as far as school-sanctioned events are concerned, the university’s decision will now require the club, which is one of the oldest entirely student-run groups at Penn State, to stop planning official student-led excursions that include hiking, canoeing, kayaking, trail building and camping activities.
Males and female students, alike, make up the 169 members of the PSOC group this year
PSOC members join others for a canoe trip in Mill Hall, Pennsylvania
Other events held this semester by the Outing Club included trips to Laurel Highlands in January, Winter backpacking in Rothrock State Forest and hiking the Chick Keiper Trail which goes ‘through some of the wildest and most visually arresting public lands in Pennsylvania’ in February.
In March, the group went to Quehanna, which includes a 75-mile trail, and the Shenandoah National Park. Earlier this month, the members took a canoeing and camping trip to Pine Creek Gorge, which has been dubbed the ‘Pennsylania Grand Canyon.’
The two other existing outdoor recreation organizations, the Nittany Grotto Caving Club and the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club, have also been ordered to no longer plan events, as they were also deemed too risky.
The Archery Club, Boxing Club, Alpine Ski Racing Club and Rifle Club were deemed to pass the risk review assessment and will continue to operate, as normal.
A group of nine Penn State Outing Club members rest on a fallen tree at Quehanna
The school determined ‘that the types of activities in which PSOC engages are above the University’s threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations,’ the group’s official notice to members read