The Outing Club has been operating at Penn State University for 98 years now. It’s meant to get students out into the great outdoors with hiking trips and other outdoor activities in some of the most scenic areas on the East Coast.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the spring 2018 schedule included day trips through the Laurel Highlands and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and a backpacking trip in Rothrock State Forest in Pennsylvania. All the club asks is a $20 dues payment and a payment of $5 to $10 for the individual trips.
Then the university got involved and said that going outdoors was simply too dangerous for the precious snowflakes under their charge. The Outing Club, an outdoor club that’s operated for almost a century, can no longer go outdoors as of next semester.
“This is a result,” the club announced on its website, “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 decision came after a two-month review by the university which didn’t actually involve any members of the Outing Club. In other words, the people who were partaking in this “dangerous” activity were never consulted to see how dangerous it was. That decision was left to administrators who, one assumes, have never actually been on these hikes.
Penn State also banned the Nittany Grotto Caving Club and the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club, although the Archery Club, Alpine Ski Racing Club, Boxing Club and Rifle Club were allowed to remain.
“Safety is a legitimate concern, but it wasn’t an open dialogue,” said Richard Waltz, 2017-2018 president of the Outing Club. “What’s happening to the club is a shame and negatively impacts the student experience.”
However, Lisa Powers, a Penn State University spokeswoman, said that the university stands by the decision to effectively close down the school’s oldest student-run organization.
“Student safety in any activity is our primary focus,” Powers said in an email. The Post-Gazette said that during their review of 76 clubs at Penn State, it was determined that the Outing Club’s “activities were rated high risk because they take place in remote environments with poor cell phone service, and sometimes far from emergency services.”
In 2017, Timothy Piazza died of injuries suffered during pledge night hazing at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State. At that point, Penn Live reports, “(t)he university took control of oversight and discipline of the fraternities and sororities that previously had been operated by student-run organizations such as the local Interfraternity Council. The university also promised to publish ‘scorecards’ that would reveal the grade-point averages and number of violations associated with each house, among other data points.”
The only fraternity or sorority that was shut down out of the 57 that exist at Penn State, according to Penn Live, was the one where a student died while the group tried to find out if he was worthy of joining the organization.
In spite of the fact that fraternities and sororities have been havens of drug and alcohol use for years — activities that are far more dangerous than SCUBA diving, spelunking or hiking — the only thing the university saw fit to do was to take a more active role in their administration. Even though the article mentions that almost every fraternity or sorority house had alcohol violations, the only one deemed dangerous enough to shut down was the one where someone finally died.
If Powers and her ilk were truly concerned about “student safety in any activity,” perhaps they would have shut down the Greek system that claimed someone’s life. Or perhaps they would have shut down the football team which did everything possible to protect a serial pedophile rapist for decades.
But no. Instead, what they did is stop students from going on hikes. But not entirely — a university-run alternative, called Outdoor Adventures, also “offers the same type of activities and trips as the Outing Club, to fully comply with all university policies during the past school year.” It’s also significantly more expensive, meaning that only those students with the means to be safe can experience nature. Apparently, the university-run alternative can somehow magically get cell phone coverage and have nearby emergency services where the Outing Club couldn’t. This means they’re either miracle workers or their hikes take place in the King of Prussia Mall.
Outgoing Outing Club treasurer Timothy Hackett says that the club’s 169 members worked with Outdoor Adventures to comply with all of the university’s policies.
In 98 years, the Penn State Outing Club has experienced zero deaths. It has brought students out to experience the splendors of nature — yes, in places with poor cell phone coverage and where emergency services might not be right nearby. This isn’t about safety, however. This is about philosophy.
Humans do not need to have their hand held every step of the way, especially when they’re adults who should be able to judge risks on their own. They do not need a safety net below them at all times. There is a sense of self-reliance and wonderment that’s being crushed here.
It’s highly unlikely that any of these students will experience truly dangerous situations during their time with the Outing Club, at least if they educate themselves about the wilderness. And that’s the important thing — learning to take responsibility for your safety and to understand danger, appraise it, conquer it, and then only when necessary, retreat from it.
Instead, these adults are being offered an academia-approved substitute which, one suspects, cares little about the character-building aspects that the Outing Club has represented for nearly a century. This isn’t about safety. If it were, Penn State would shut down every fraternity and sorority on campus. They’d ban peanuts and shellfish from campus for fear of allergies. They’d stop students from driving.
All of those are far more dangerous than the Outing Club. The difference is that that the minute danger inherent in the Outing Club is one that fosters learning, respect, awe for nature and self-agency.
The concepts of wonder, discipline and victory over adversity that the club represents are being washed away by the chattering classes, replaced by academic functionaries that insist on destroying individual agency and independence.
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