The outdoors have a financial accessibility problem. The College touts Maine as a valuable resource that professors and students should use as a forum for discovery and experiential learning, and the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) is part of that. Assuming we value an outdoor education, this resource must be available to all students without hindrance, regardless of their financial situation.
The BOC should lessen the burden on students receiving financial aid—about half of our campus community—by creating an easier system to waive its $50 membership fee that doesn’t require a face-to-face request.
As of now, students get one “free trip card” at the start of the year. After that, with the current system’s paper form, waiving dues requires a conversation with either of the Outing Club Assistant Directors, Tess Hamilton ’16 or Anna Bastidas. Students in need of financial aid shouldn’t have to navigate Bowdoin differently than those who aren’t—this system forces them to do exactly that.
A student could be facing this situation as early as September of their first year, when they may not feel comfortable approaching authority figures on campus about their needs. Students may also be uncertain whether their financial circumstances would be sufficient to allow for exemption.
Like the recently discontinued Out of the Zone program (OZ), the current process for waiving dues exemplifies a system that fails to expand access to a traditionally inaccessible space, in the same spirit as the effort to compensate LT participants for missed work-study hours during trips. The next step is bridging the gap between the resource and its actual availability.
The precedent for rectifying the current system exists already. The BOC could utilize a private opt-in system, with an in-email check-box indicating whether or not a student requires financial assistance. This self-reporting, followed up by verification with College records, is the same structure that the Office of the Dean of Students uses to deal with financing meals over breaks.
Here’s our math:
According to an article published by the Orient in October 2018, the BOC receives 9.2 percent of the SAFC’s roughly $700,000 budget, or about $64,400. This money comes directly from a student activity fee paid by every student at the College. In effect, 9.2 percent of that $528 fee goes to the BOC, meaning each student contributes about $50 regardless of their involvement.
Roughly half of Bowdoin students are on financial aid. Assuming the same fraction of BOC members are on aid (which, demographically, is a generous assumption given the lack of accessibility in outdoor recreation), 200 of the BOC’s 400 members are on financial aid; in short, the BOC collects $50 from roughly 200 members, meaning they receive an additional $10,000 from dues. Given that some students already have their dues waived, this number is likely even lower.
In the larger scheme of Bowdoin finances, this is a fraction of the resources on this campus. The capital for the $8 million renovations of the Whittier Football Field was sourced “entirely through private donations from several individuals.” Many of the College’s scholarships and projects are funded by the donations of generous alumni. To gather enormous amounts of money for a football field renovation but allow financial need to inhibit some students from participating in their recreation of choice is an optically unfortunate juxtaposition.
If we value our outdoor spaces and strive to equalize the way students approach all aspects of life on campus, we should enact a policy that puts in practice the idea that the BOC should be accessible to students of all financial backgrounds.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Emily Cohen, Brianna Cunliffe, Roither Gonzales, Alyce McFadden, Nina McKay, Reuben Schafir and Jaret Skonieczny.