Saklad: Let Them Out

Pennsylvania State University went too far in disbanding its Outing Club.

by Avery Saklad | 5/8/18 2:10am

Since the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Timothy Piazza’s hazing-related death early last year, Pennsylvania State University has walked on eggshells. Another safety infringement will send the university’s name right back into the news headlines while they cannot afford the negative publicity. Necessarily, they’ve examined safety procedures in organizations across campus in order to mitigate any future safety risks, assessed emergency procedures, set minimum requirements for medically-certified leaders to club participant ratios and reviewed the risks involved in each club’s activities. All of these measures may help keep the university’s name out of unwanted press headlines and ensure the safety of current and future Penn State students, but when precaution translated to shutting down of one of the university’s major clubs, the administration went a step too far.

On Apr. 10, officers of Campus Recreation, the Office of Risk Management and the Office of Student Activities announced the mandatory disbandment of Penn State’s Outing Club. Risk assessment of the club determined that Outing Club trips posed too great of a risk to students to be condoned by the administration. The Office of Student Activities granted members of the Outing Club permission to function as a special interest student organization after reviewing a formal proposal on Apr. 25. Special interest student organization status allows the Outing Club to continue hosting speakers, maintaining trails and working with local businesses, but not to take out future trips.

After 98 years of offering students opportunities to backpack, canoe, boulder and participate in any number of outdoor recreational activities, Penn State is losing one of its most valuable organizations. I optimistically believe that those students most impacted by the disbandment of the club will continue to fight for the return of these opportunities, but in the meantime, the repercussions of the Outing Club’s dismissal may hit harder than any risk present during its operation.

Communities fostered by shared passion for outdoor recreation are essential for the development of environmentally-concerned students. If Penn State’s Outing Club is at all similar to the one here at Dartmouth, its members tend to be the driving forces behind many campus environmental initiatives. The students who have intimate experiences with nature are generally the ones fighting for its preservation — they have a deep-felt understanding of the natural earth’s value because their passion, relaxation and recreation necessitates its defense against blind degradation from a society which prioritizes money and human development. But without the chance to participate in impactful experiences in nature, the number of students at Penn willing to fight tooth and nail for future generations’ right to inherit a beautiful Earth will plummet. With the environment in its current chaotic state, society cannot afford to lose any bright new minds who might contribute to potentially groundbreaking solutions to current crises, such as continued dependence on fossil fuels and widespread ignorance of personal contributions to pollution.

Disbandment of the Outing Club may harm campus social life, too. Without trips organized by the Outing Club, students who might otherwise have spent their time engaging in healthy outdoor activities may turn to alternative social circles and methods of relaxation. Penn State campuses spread all throughout Pennsylvania, and while the more metropolitan locations offer students entertainment beyond what’s generated by the school, more rurally situated students may have limited possibilities for social outlets aside from Greek life. Penn State has already dealt with a tragic death at the hands of a Greek institution. If Greek involvement increases due to the eradication of the Outing Club, alcohol consumption, hazing, toxic party culture and sexual violence will likely increase as well. Administrative officers shut down Penn’s Outing Club because of the potential danger it posed to students, but is spending a weekend camping with a few friends on a school-sanctioned trip really riskier than the harms perpetuated by the Greek system?

In the 2016-17 academic year, Mount Nittany Medical Center’s Emergency Department reported 711 cases of alcohol-related hospitalization of students from Penn’s University Park campus alone — a higher rate of incidence than the main campus has seen in at least five years. 18.1 percent of undergraduate students on the same campus reported experiences of sexual assault in 2015, the year of the university’s last published report; this percentage has been increasing since 2010. As always, this statistic does not account for the countless unreported assaults that take place on every college campus. Like Dartmouth, Penn State continues to combat violence and unhealthy behaviors often encouraged by the Greek system. With one less community for students to turn to in lieu of the Greek system, the major issues that Penn’s administration already struggles to deal with will only become larger and harder to combat. Eliminating an element of risk by disbanding the Outing Club will only relocate and compound it within the Greek system.

Pennsylvania State University understandably concerns itself now more than ever with potential risk within university activities, but abolishing the Outing Club should not be a solution to campus danger. The benefits of providing students with easy and affordable access to outdoor recreation cannot be disregarded because an active outdoor lifestyle comes with some inherent risk. Consistently updated and reviewed safety procedures, medically certified leaders and risk acknowledgement forms, all of which Penn’s Outing Club already had in place, are ample precautionary steps to alleviate risk associated with outdoor recreation. In the coming months, university officials will hopefully come to this same conclusion and reinstitute one of the campus’s staple organizations.