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Outing Club at major college actually barred from outside activities over 'student safety' concerns

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The Outing Club of Penn State University — seen here on a 2017 backpacking trip in Shenandoah National Park — been barred by the college from sponsoring outside activities over "student safety" concerns. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Believe it or not, the Outing Club at Penn State University — a student organization that's been sponsoring day hikes and backpacking trips for students over the last 98 years — has been barred by the college from conducting outside activities.

The reason? "Student safety" concerns, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

“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 Outing Club's website noted, the paper said.

PSU Outing Club on a 2017 Shenandoah trip. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

After a two-month review — without leaders of the Outing Club — PSU's offices of Student Affairs and Risk Management ruled that the club's hiking, canoeing, kayaking, trail building, camping and other outdoor programs are too risky, the Post-Gazette reported.

“Student safety in any activity is our primary focus,” Lisa Powers, a Penn State University spokeswoman, told the paper, adding that Outing Club activities were rated high risk because they take place in remote environments with poor cellphone service and sometimes far from emergency services.

What other clubs sponsor activities deemed too risky?

Powers added to the Post-Gazette that PSU reviewed all recreation-oriented student groups — 76 athletic groups and three outdoor clubs. The school's two other outdoor groups, the Nittany Grotto Caving Club and the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club, also were deemed too risky and told to stop trips, the paper said.

The clubs that passed risk assessments include the Archery Club, Boxing Club, Alpine Ski Racing Club and Rifle Club, the Post-Gazette reported.

“Safety is a legitimate concern, but it wasn’t an open dialogue,” Richard Waltz, the Outing Club’s 2017-2018 president, told the paper. “What’s happening to the club is a shame and negatively impacts the student experience.”

Timothy Hackett, the outgoing treasurer of the Outing Club, told the Post-Gazette he doesn't know of any student injuries on any Outing Club trips over the four years he's been at PSU.

PSU Outing Club on a 2017 Shenandoah trip. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

What about the university staff-led Outdoor Adventures program?

If students want to participate in the types of outdoor trips the Outing Club used to offer, there's always the university's staff-led Outdoor Adventures program — except it costs more, the paper said.

More from the Post-Gazette:

The Outing Club collects a $20 dues payment at the beginning of a semester and 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 bumped up from between $30 and $60 last year, to between $90 and $130 this year, Mr. Waltz said, and appeal to different participants.

“The two programs offer very different experiences,” Waltz added to the paper. “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.”

Powers told the Post-Gazette the Outdoor Adventures staff and student leaders are better trained and more experienced.

What did the Outing Club's incoming president have to say?

Christina Platt, the Outing Club's incoming president, told the paper she realizes liability is a growing concern — not just at PSU but everywhere.

“Our increasingly litigious society is making it far more difficult for people to get outside without the fear of lawsuits for any misstep," she told the Post-Gazette. "I can hardly blame Penn State for protecting itself against further litigation after a number of high-profile scandals in the past decade."

(H/T: Reason)

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