This spring, only three students signed up for the Bowdoin Outing Club’s (BOC) Out of the Zone (OZ) program, an all-time low since the program’s founding in 2009. On average, more than ten students have participated in each rotation in past years.
The OZ program is an offshoot of the Leadership Training (LT) program. It recruits and trains people of color, first-generation students, low-income students and other historically underrepresented members of the outdoor community into student leadership positions at the BOC. A key difference between OZ and LT is that in the former, training expeditions are scheduled over breaks rather than on weekends to avoid conflicting with participants’ on-campus jobs.
OZ was established after a group of Bowdoin administrators, including Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, former Dean of Multicultural Affairs Wil Smith ’00 and current Outing Club Director Mike Woodruff ’87, began conversations over a decade ago on how to foster more inclusive and diverse participation within the BOC. A large donation made 11 years ago by Bryan Cook ’80 was also key to kick-start the program.
This year’s low enrollment can be attributed to several changes in Bowdoin’s administration.
Woodruff attributed this year’s lack of participation to increased recruitment struggles, largely due to the departure of Leana Amaez, former associate dean of students for diversity and inclusion and co-director of the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center.
“She just had a really strong relationship with a lot of our students of color and students from different cultural backgrounds,” Woodruff said.
“[Amaez] thought this was a great program for them to get involved in and find another place on campus to identify their people,” he continued. “It was great having Amaez encouraging a lot of those students to come check us out because I think many of those students have not had as much outdoor experience.”
“I have heard that some people think that it’s because last year’s group didn’t bond particularly a ton, so perhaps people didn’t really advertise it to their friends, and there just wasn’t enough word of mouth to get it out there,” said current OZ participant Irene Brogdon ’22.
Brogdon thinks that a sense of separation still exists, due to the differences in experience between OZ and LT. While the group felt more cohesive after their spring break trip to Florida, she admitted that there was a divide during the first few OZ/Spring LT meetings.
“In times when Spring LT and OZ are together, I have heard that Spring LT can get kind of annoyed or not be as empathetic,” she said. “I guess it is because they have all had a lot of experience rafting, backpacking and canoeing and maybe OZ hasn’t had as much in the past two years.”
Olivia Bean ’17 participated in OZ in 2015 when the program reached its peak enrollment of 15 participants. She believes that OZ training made the BOC a more comfortable space for her and equipped her with a far-reaching set of wilderness preparedness skills.
“I got a lot out of OZ in terms of actually learning how to do stuff outdoors like hard skills but also a lot of quality leadership skills that I use now,” she said.
Bean expressed disappointment in OZ’s decreased enrollment and the broader implications this has for the culture of the BOC.
“The same people will go [on BOC trips] … relatively well-off people who have been doing outdoors stuff all their life, and it gets harder for people to feel vulnerable and actually want to join at all,” she said.
Additionally, Brogdon noted it can be difficult to feel accepted in the BOC because of preexisting bonds between students who know each other both in and outside of the club activities.
“There’s so much overlap between the people who are in Spring LT and say, frisbee, and other groups that tend to draw the same people,” she said.
Having attended Bowdoin in the late 1980s, Woodruff pointed out that today, both the College and the BOC are radically more diverse than they were 35 years ago. Still, he emphasized that many further steps can be taken to increase the inclusivity of the BOC.
“The goal with OZ has always been to reach a place where we no longer need to have an OZ program. We have a critical mass of the folks that are specifically targeted in that program and that [could] somehow become self-sustaining,” Woodruff said. “But we are definitely not there yet.”
After acquiring seed money from the Student Employment Advisory Board’s Incentive Pool, the BOC hired inclusivity and diversity coordinators Meera Prasad ’19 and Nate DeMoranville ’20 this year to help address this issue. Aisha Rickford ’20 will take over this position next year. In addition, the BOC held a 15-person focus group of former OZ members several weeks ago to solicit advice on recruiting for and improving of the LT programs.
This summer, Woodruff plans on working with Anna Bastidas and Tess Hamilton ’16, both assistant directors of the BOC, with the end goal of making one comprehensive LT program.
“I still think that is sort of the ideal model … not have separate-but-equal but just to have everyone in one big process of learning all this stuff and putting it to use,” Woodruff said.
He is hopeful that these continued efforts will soon bring about a concrete long-term strategy for the OZ program.
“We’ve been tweaking away at leadership training, and I think we are at a stage where we might be at a next evolutionary great leap forward,” he said.