US & Canada

US college says outdoors too risky for outdoors club

Students hiking in the wilderness Image copyright Penn State Outing Club
Image caption The university cites the remote locations of club activities as a reason to end outdoors events

A US college outdoors club is being disbanded because its activities, which include hiking, running and backpacking, are deemed too risky.

Pennsylvania State University officials said the group will be reconstituted to focus more on safety.

The 98-year-old Outing Club is one of three that will be disbanded from next semester: the caving and scuba clubs have also been deemed unsafe.

But the Outing Club said its community "is not going anywhere."

Image copyright Penn State Outing Club / Facebook
Image caption Hiking is among the activities carried out by the students

The decision came after a two-month review process, but the students say they were not consulted.

"Safety is a legitimate concern, but it wasn't an open dialogue," Richard Waltz, president of the 169-member Outing Club, told local media.

The club's officers told the BBC that though they had spoken with some of the university members involved, "the main decision-makers" were not present in these conversations.

They added that despite requests, "none of the officers have been permitted to see the results of the risk management assessment".

University spokeswoman Lisa Powers said in a statement their risk assessment was based on the club's activities in dangerous, remote environments.

Image copyright Penn State Outing Club
Image caption Students participating in one of the club's outdoor activities

"In addition to the inherent risks found in many of these student activities that occur without fully trained guides or leaders, the behaviours of some students on unsupervised trips have become a concern," she said.

"These concerns have, at times, included the misuse of alcohol in the context of already risky activities. This mix is obviously dangerous."

The university said the clubs were only being disbanded in their "current high-risk model" and will be "re-organised" in order to provide more oversight by trained staff during activities.

According to the college, safety concerns were initially raised by students themselves.

However, Christina Platt, incoming president of the Outing Club, said there were no alcohol-related incidents or injuries that she is aware of on any of their trips.

The students said in a Facebook post: "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 adviser and Penn State staff to find the appropriate structure within the University to continue to foster this ever-growing outdoor community."

Image copyright Penn State Outdoors Club / Facebook
Image caption Could a stroll in a summery meadow be fraught with risk?

Reaction to the club's statement underlined just how upset students - and alumni - are over the university's risk-averse policy.

"Club Sports is treating students like children who cannot be trusted to even leave campus for a moment," one commenter said.

Another wrote: "Leading and participating in student-led PSOC trips was one of the most valuable experiences of my time at Penn State, and the fact that students were given the responsibility made all the difference."

The club has received over 230 responses on social media, and a petition for the club has gained more than 2,200 signatures in the past two days, students told the BBC. In addition, they said dozens of clubs nationwide and even from Greece have offered support.

Other adventurous Americans:

Image copyright Dylan McWilliams
Image caption Another adventure loving American: Dylan McWilliams survived a bear mauling and a shark attack

The Outing Club's officers also said they are meeting with the university's Office of Student Activities on Wednesday to discuss restructuring the club to be a "special interest organisation".

Under this title, the club would be able to host certain community events like film festivals, but would not be able to provide volunteer, student-led trips.

"Moving forward we are going to continue having discussions with the university to ensure that there are affordable opportunities for students to go outside."

The university offers an outdoor adventures programme for students, but it is significantly more expensive than student-led club.

The Outing Club said their fees amount to $20 (£14) a year, while a weekend trip with the university programme could cost around $110 (£79).

The club's last meeting, which took place on Monday evening, was "full of energy", the students told the BBC.

"It was bittersweet, but many were hopeful for positive change in the upcoming year."

More on this story