In the wake of Penn State's decision to no longer allow three student outdoors clubs to lead trips, two online petitions to save 98-year-old Outing Club have garnered more than 13,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
Penn State Outing Club, Nittany Grotto Caving Club and Nittany Divers SCUBA Club are "losing recognition due to an unacceptable amount of risk to student members that is associated with their activities," according to university spokeswoman Lisa Powers.
The decision is the result of a review of all 79 Campus Recreation-supported student organizations that was conducted this spring. Changes were recommended to 20 orgs, including the three outdoor-based groups that were found to be too risky as they currently operate.
A petition on change.org says that PSOC has helped students find their confidence and provided a space for them to feel safe and heard, which is being "threatened" by the university's decision "to ban Outing Club from going outside."
"How is it that in the year 2018, when society is literally the safest it's ever been, going outdoors is suddenly deemed too risky?" a second online petition says.
PSOC and Nittany Divers SCUBA Club will continue to meet as special interest organizations, but will no longer be able to organize or run trips. Penn State says it's given the caving club the opportunity to form as a special interest org, too.
That means the clubs can show films, host speakers, offer educational programs, etc. But they can't organize or lead their own trips, like they've been doing for decades.
"The caving club has decided that being separated from the university is beneficial in some ways and detrimental in others, but we are no worse off now than we were a year ago. Because we have a large community supporting us, the university segment was more or less a recruiting pool for the sport," caving club President Michael Lacey said in an email Wednesday. "Though we have lost easy access to this, we are able to focus more time on the subject because we more or less regulate how and when we do things."
The PSOC officers and adviser met with university officials Wednesday, and the group's status was officially updated to a special interest org, according to a release from the officers.
"Furthermore, the club adviser and officers asked to start discussions with the university to provide affordable ways to get our members outside and meet their needs," the PSOC officers' release said. "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."
The university has said that students will still have access to outdoor recreation opportunities through Penn State's Outdoor Adventures program. Those trips do have a cost associated with them.
"We know there is an inherent risk associated with any activity," Laura Hall, senior director of Campus Recreation, said in a Thursday press release from Penn State. "Through our evaluation, we worked to determine, from a university standpoint, what the acceptable levels of risk are for the student organizations within our program. The goal was not to eliminate all risk, but to responsibly manage risk so that our students can continue to safely participate in a variety of recreation activities. Penn State supports providing as many opportunities in the outdoors as possible, while also remaining committed to student safety and well-being."
Nittany Divers, founded in 1967, is looking forward to keeping its tradition alive at Penn State.
"We believe that this move is great for us," Alex Pulice, Nittany Divers president, said in a Tuesday press release. "Outdoor Adventures has agreed to work with us to continue offering great local diving opportunities for students. Now our club can focus solely on continuing to build a community of students who are passionate about SCUBA."