Letter to the Editor: The shutdown of several Outdoor Education and Leadership programs

Dear Editor,

Last Thursday Bucknell’s administration announced to OEL’s managers that five of their seven programs will be closed after fall break. Outdoor Education and Leadership (OEL) is the mother of the outdoor programs at Bucknell, and includes the Rental Center, the Climbing Wall, Bison Bikes, Outing Club, CLIMBucknell, Marketing, and BuckWild. OEL takes first years backpacking for the first time in BuckWild, and allows students to climb who normally wouldn’t be able to afford it. The bike shop gives bikeless, car-less students the opportunity to be less dependent on Bucknell and get themselves to the grocery store or farmers market, and gives students with a car the opportunity to choose a more sustainable option. The climbing wall allows a place for OEL members to meet regularly as a community. The rental center lets students go camping or kayaking in this breathtaking landscape we only have so much longer to enjoy, even if they can’t afford the gear. The Challenge Course is a “classroom without walls,” giving groups the opportunity to overcome obstacles as a team, while the Marketing team makes sure Bucknell students know about these opportunities.

According to Dean Conrad in the Monday night OEL meeting, the five programs that are shutting down, for at least this year, are in need of risk management and reorganization, including dealing with understaffing and equipment repairs. She indicated this is due to the “unexpected departure” of one of the two graduate assistants, Payton Kirkpatrick, who oversaw the Climbing Wall and the Challenge Course (CLIMBucknell). The Rental Center and Bike Shop are shutting down too for the time being, as well as the entire marketing department, with the exception of the manager. The administration believes equipment repairs and reassessment of the program is vital here, though Kaitlyn Kurdziel, the manager of the bike shop, explained the importance of the bikes for students. She said, “You’re severely limiting them if they don’t have a car and can’t get food off campus, because at the end of the day, food off campus is a lot cheaper than campus food.” With such a drastic, far-reaching change on such short notice, bringing on another permanent staff member to help run OEL is crucial now more than ever, so we can start working towards solutions.

Brenna Prevelige, a Biology major in the class of 2020, explained, “Hearing that so much of my identity on this campus was being taken away absolutely crushed me. The sense of genuineness and belonging that comes with the OEL community has been unparalleled.” Personally, I would have transferred if OEL were not here for me my first year, and the same is true for Brenna Prevelige. Every OEL member I’ve talked to so far has said the same.

Rachel Johnson, the manager of the climbing wall, told me, “I completely understand that OEL went through a drastic change … I understand that and I respect that, but I think there’s going to be a significant detriment to the lives and the health of the students who rely on OEL for the time we’re without its resources.” If the administration can get more permanent staff by next fall and feels confident enough in the risk management to have everything up and running again, that would be wonderful. But the time that we’re without these opportunities matters. Last semester, the climbing wall had 605 attendances. The semester before, it was 710, all just for a dusty little room in the back of the fieldhouse. Rachel Johnson said, “It was my impression with my conversation with my staff that everyone was focused on how this would affect the climbing community, and much less about their jobs.” The wall is a place people can come climb, but it’s also a place people can come hang out with their friends without once touching the wall. It’s a little corner of campus in which we can forget the rest of the world exists, even if only for three hours.

Remember the saying, “We don’t inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children,” and give me back this Earth. Give me back this deteriorating, breathtaking, beautiful outdoors which I only have so much longer to enjoy, and which I can only feel hopeful about when I’m in it. In the words of Brenna Prevelige, more than anything, “This is taking away a refuge through which students can seek connections, support, and release from the stress of their daily lives.”

 

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