Special Announcement (5/04)
We wanted to provide an update on our progress since our last press release on April 27, 2018. Pushing through finals week, we focused our efforts on reviewing your feedback form responses and reaching out to you for letters of support, the history of the structure of PSOC, and the structure of other outing clubs across the country. We are continuing to build our case.
Damon Sims, Vice President for Student Affairs, has reached out to us to discuss the status of the Outing Club. Our club advisor and the officers are scheduled to meet with him on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. We look forward to this discussion! Our intention is that this is just the first of many meetings throughout the summer in achieving our goals.
This morning, we met with Mark Dambly, Chairman of the Penn State Board of Trustees (BOT), for a few minutes before today’s BOT closed-door discussions at The Penn Stater Conference Center. Given the short time available, we emphasized that the risk assessment did not include many of the key players (and still has not been released) and that our main goal is that we want a well thought-out, reasoned, and transparent review process with input from all stakeholders: the administration, the Board of Trustees, academic departments and faculty members, the greater outdoor community, and, most importantly, the student body. We handed him 10 copies of the attached 1-page letter that succinctly provides the details of what happened; the importance of PSOC to the student body and how it helps to achieve Penn State’s own goals; and our plan moving forward. Furthermore, we delivered a supporting materials package consisting of 499 pages of your PSOC stories and testimonials, the two petitions (now, totalling over 22,000 signatures), your letters of support, the press releases by Penn State and us, and a copy of each of the 150+ news articles and opinion pieces on PSOC published in the last three weeks. The copies of these letters and the supporting materials package have been distributed to the BOT at today’s meeting.
We cannot thank you enough for all your support along this journey so far. Please continue to send us your stories and letters of your support. We will keep updating you as we continue to make forward progress! Happy Graduation to our seniors!
The PSOC Officers
Special Announcement (4/26)
In the past few days, the club officers have been disappointed with multiple misleading and false statements made by Penn State officials in the press and in responses to individuals. We reached out to Campus Recreation on April 23, 2018 and April 24, 2018 and the Office of Student Activities on April 25, 2018 respectfully requesting that these statements be corrected. We were told by that these changes would be reviewed and pushed up to the Office of Strategic Communications. Unfortunately, the statements by Penn State officials seem to continue to include misleading and false information. We provide the following narrative to provide more details of the Outing Club in the past 15 months.
Prior to Spring 2017, the Outing Club was housed in the Campus Recreation Club Sports organization. When planning a trip, we were required to submit paperwork that was designed and intended for typical organized sporting events, such as a wrestling tournament or track meet. This included a trip roster, driving directions, and a basic itinerary, though we routinely supplemented this information by providing trail maps, campsite locations, and more detailed itineraries. On each trip, there was a minimum of one safety officer, who held an active First Aid/CPR/AED certification as per Club Sports policies. The Club Sports liability waiver also had to be signed by each trip member. If any of these requirements were not met, the trip would not be approved by Club Sports and would not go out.
Starting in the Fall 2016, staff within Club Sports and Outdoor Adventures (then called Adventure Recreation) began to raise concerns that the Club Sports staff did not have the necessary experience to properly evaluate our proposed backpacking and paddling trips. From January 2017 through March 2017, the Outing Club was suspended from running trips until Campus Recreation and the Office of Risk Management developed new risk-mitigating policies for the three outdoor recreation clubs: Outing Club, Nittany Divers, and Nittany Grotto Caving Club. These three clubs were moved out of Club Sports and into a new division of Campus Recreation called “Campus Recreation–Affiliated Club Sports”, where the Outdoor Adventures office oversaw the approval process of all new trips. The new policies set in place required new trip organizational paperwork consistent with Outdoor Adventures’ required paperwork including, but not limited to:
– a detailed emergency action plan illustrating that from any point on the trail, we had a plan in place on how to exit the backcountry to get help and evacuate someone to the nearest hospital or urgent care center;
– delegations of responsibilities of trip leaders and safety officers for the roles of incident commander, lead medic, group management, and communications;
– GPS coordinates of the intended campsites;
– written step-by-step itinerary of the trip (with illustrated maps);
– expected trail conditions, weather, and hazards;
– the address and contact information for the nearest landline phone, hospital, urgent care center, outdoor outfitter, law enforcement station, and ranger station; and
– a call-out contact at the University with a specific call-out time, with an automatic procedure that the authorities would be notified if not contacted by the call-out time.
Each trip was required to have one trip member to be actively certified in Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or a greater certification and a second member to be actively certified in at least First Aid/CPR/AED. Furthermore, the participant-to-leader/co-lead ratio could be no more than 4:1 for summer, fall, and spring trips. For winter trips, the ratio could be no more than 3:1. A health history form was required to be filled out by each trip member and submitted to the Assistant Director of Campus Recreation (Director of Outdoor Adventures) for review, and any pertinent information was then relayed to the safety officers. The Club Sports liability waiver also had to be signed by each trip member. These policies are consistent with Outdoor Adventures’ policies. All trip leaders for PSOC trips had to be personally approved by the Assistant Director of Campus Recreation. Although we did not require specific trip leader training, all trip leaders that were not already Outdoor Adventures-trained or Penn State AURORA-trained employees must have had extensive backcountry and outdoor leadership experience.
In practice, a significant portion of our trip leaders also worked at Penn State as outdoor guides. Furthermore, many trips exceeded the minimum medical training policy by having more than two safety officers (sometimes upwards of 5) and having superseding certifications, such as Wilderness First Responder (WFR), Swift Water Rescue (SWR), and/or Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
In Fall 2017, representatives of the officer board started meeting with the Assistant Director of Campus Recreation about twice a month, where we would provide feedback to each other on the day-to-day operations of the club and running trips. During these meetings, we both agreed on the concerns of not having a formal trip leader training program for PSOC. We (the officers) repeatedly pushed through the fall semester to collaborate with Campus Recreation to create a training process with trained professionals, but we were told to “wait until next semester”, which became “wait until next year”. During one of these meetings in the late fall, we were also informed that Campus Recreation had decided (with no student input) that the Outing Club was not allowed to purchase gear such as sleeping bags, tents, and backpacks in light of risk management concerns and duplication of resources, but we could continue to use the gear that PSOC already owned. Any necessary gear beyond our current gear inventory for a trip would have to be rented through Outdoor Adventures or some other outfitter.
Between Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, the Outing Club successfully ran 10 weekend backpacking trips, 1 day hike, and 1 canoe/camp trip, while complying with all of the policies and procedures listed above and without any injuries. We found the new risk-mitigation policies and procedures helped to formalize and streamline the trip planning process for officers and trip leaders and to to bring the Outing Club closer to national standards.
We (the officers) understood that there was more that could be done to mitigate risk, such as implementing a GPS tracker and satellite communication system like SPOT Gen3 (a technology used by Penn State’s AURORA backpacking orientation program). We expected to continue working with the Campus Recreation to work through all risk management questions that had been raised.
On April 2, 2018, the Penn State Outing Club was called into an “organizational review” where representatives of Campus Recreation and the Office of Student Activities were present. The club was informed that a review from the perspective of University risk management policies had been conducted. This review was conducted by Campus Recreation, the Office of Risk Management, and the Office of Student Activities. We would like to point out that the Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management (RPTM) department within the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State was not consulted in this process despite being a department full of subject-matter experts and recently launching a new Outdoor Experiential Leadership option within the program. The result of this review was that its activities exceed the University’s acceptable risk level for both Campus Recreation Club Sports and Student Activities Student Organizations, and the club would be dissolved at the end of the semester. Additionally, the activities of the Outing Club were found to be a “duplication of resources” as Outdoor Adventures also ran backpacking and canoe/camp trips. Since April 2, the officers have requested multiple times to see the risk assessment but have been denied by Penn State officials. At the end of the meeting, it was clear that Outing Club was to be disbanded.
On April 10, 2018, the officers announced at the general meeting that club would not be able to run trips any longer due to this risk assessment. We were still optimistic that we would find a way to keep the community together. We provided the club with potential solutions, which included applying to become a special interest student organization, disbanding the club and meeting informally in Outdoor Adventures’ newly proposed “student forum night”, and/or start a nonprofit organization based in State College.
On April 12, 2018, the officers sent a proposal to the Office of Student Activities to become a special interest student organization. As a recognized student organization, PSOC would be able to continue to foster our outdoor community here at Penn State. We would continue to have many of the events and activities that we have been doing for 98 years: hosting professional and student speakers at our meetings, organizing members for trail maintenance events, and partnering with local outdoor companies and organizations. But, we would not be able to organize or run student-led trips.
On April 25, 2018, the Director and Assistant Director of Student Activities, PSOC Club Advisor, and PSOC officer representatives met to discuss the special interest organization proposal. The proposal was officially accepted by the University, and the Outing Club’s status was updated to a recognized student organization before the meeting was adjourned. Furthermore, the club advisor and officers asked to start discussions with the University to provide affordable ways to get our members outside and meet their needs. We requested that a well thought-out and reasoned process should be started, and it should include input from all stakeholders: the administration, academic departments and faculty members, community members, the greater outdoor community, and most importantly, the student body. We continue to look forward to these discussions over the coming months.
Finally, on the topic of alleged alcohol usage on PSOC trips, to our knowledge there has never been any record of alcohol-related incidents. Early on in the risk management discussions that began in December of 2016, University officials raised concerns about the possibility of alcohol use on trips, though no accusations were made. The Campus Recreation Director made clear the financial consequences of any incident on a trip involving alcohol—the $1 million university liability insurance would not cover any incidents where alcohol was involved and the trip leaders would become personally liable in all lawsuits. This knowledge was not taken lightly and a strict no-alcohol policy was enforced by officers in the 2017-2018 academic year. The officers fully support a zero-tolerance policy towards alcohol on trips and believe that dry trips are better both for safety and for our club culture. From a practical standpoint, it is also important to keep in mind the fact that alcohol is heavy and bulky. It simply does not make sense to bring alcohol on a backpacking trip when your pack already weighs 40+ pounds and you’re hiking for 8-12 miles per day! Alcohol is far more accessible to students who stay home for the weekend.
We hope that this narrative helps clarify and provide more details into statements that have been made in the media and to individuals. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. As always, keep reaching out to us and sharing our story! We’re optimistic for the future!
The PSOC Officers
Special Announcement (4/25)
We would like to once again thank you for the enormous outpouring of support over these past few days! This story is being covered from local news to international news. We have received so many emails, messages, and feedback entries from current and alumni PSOC members, State College community members, university outing clubs, outdoor enthusiasts, and many other concerned citizens. We’ve been contacted by individuals and organizations on three continents. We really cannot begin to express our gratitude for your support.
This afternoon, we (the officers) met with staff from the Office of Student Activities to discuss our proposal submitted to transition PSOC into a Special Interest Student Organization under their office. This proposal has been accepted, meaning that the Outing Club will not be disbanded at the end of the semester. As a special interest organization, we will be able to continue to foster our outdoor community here at Penn State. We will continue to have many of the events and activities that we have been doing for 98 years: hosting professional and student speakers at our meetings, organizing members for trail maintenance events, and partnering with local outdoor companies and organizations. At this time, as a recognized student organization, we cannot organize and run student-led trips.
Establishing this recognized student organization is the first big step. But, as we have promised our members, we will continue to push for discussions with the University to provide affordable ways to get our members outside and meet their needs. We are optimistic that this will happen, but it is going to take time. We want it to to be a well thought-out and reasoned process with input from all stakeholders: the administration, academic departments and faculty members, community members, the greater outdoor community, and most importantly, the student body. As we start these discussions, we continue to ask for your input. For those in other university outing clubs and outdoors programs, please send letters of your support and describe how your organization is structured within your university. For all of you, we continue to ask you to spread this story.
Today, we made forward moving progress with the University to ensure that the Outing Club will continue towards its centennial birthday, but there are many ongoing discussions. We will continue to keep you updated.
The PSOC Officer Board
Special Announcement (4/11)
As we discussed in our general meeting last night, The Penn State Outing Club will no longer be organizing and running outdoor student-led trips starting next semester. 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.
Nevertheless, 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. 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.
This club has affected so many individuals in such positive ways throughout the years. We want to hear your stories! We also know that many of you have questions, comments, and concerns on this news. Help us out by completing the following form; we look forward to hearing from you! https://goo.gl/forms/CTnUvePR6XPL4UrU2
As for this semester, we will continue to be running our planned trips and activities. Please join us in continuing these discussions at our remaining meetings this semester on 4/17/18 and 4/24/18 at 8:00 PM in 350 Health and Human Development (HHD) Building!
The PSOC Officer Board