With the return of upperclass students to campus, the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) has resumed COVID-19-conscious excursions and opened applications for its Leadership Training (LT) program, an intensive program that prepares students to lead trips.
Beyond limiting possible trip locations, COVID-19 has also impacted the BOC’s internal operations. Although many BOC officers are now back on campus, the abrupt halt in LT last year has had consequences, both on the trips that can happen and on the social life of the BOC.
“In a normal setting, the BOC officers are over here at the Schwartz Outdoor Leadership Center every day, often multiple times a day,” BOC Director Mike Woodruff said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Instead, with most upperclassmen having not been on campus in the fall, this year’s LT process has been delayed. This comes after last year when cohorts of LT participants were able to tailor their training to fit their schedule, which meant that the abrupt halt to on-campus activities in the spring was particularly disruptive to the program.
“Because of the way [LT] was structured last year, with the three groups [of students] overlapping with a lot of experiences, whether that was off-campus trips or classes on campus, people were at a lot of different places as far as their progression,” Woodruff said.
This time lost has also made the LT opportunities more exclusive, as only 16 students will be accepted, compared to the 48 in a normal year. This is largely due to limited staffing and the point in the year at which the program is commencing.
In a Zoom interview, BOC Associate Director Anna Bastidas expressed her frustration with this.
“It’s ironic because we spend so much time trying to figure out ways to be more inclusive, and this is definitely an exclusive process,” Bastidas said. “So for us, I think this is one of our more challenging aspects of what we do.”
The inability to train future leaders has been an impediment, but it has also given the current administrators time to reevaluate their training methodology and broader composition of the club.
“It is a very dynamic process of constantly reassessing what the best mode of leadership training is,” BOC Student Leader Cooper Dart ’21 said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
In addition, with the BOC having focused more on programming around race and the outdoors, prospective LT applicants have been citing an interest not only in strengthening the relationship between BOC and the campus community but also in reexamining larger issues of inclusivity and accessibility.
Sophie Lisle ’23, a prospective LT participant, explained that working on a class project about communities indigenous to Midcoast Maine, such as the tribes belonging to the Wabanaki Confederacy, had inspired her to become more involved with the BOC.
“I hope to gain a better understanding of the place,” Lisle said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Be able to understand more about the land that we’re on right now.”
Prospective LT participant Peter Littman ’23 shares the goal of promoting equity.
“My hope would be to make the [BOC] a more diverse space. And I think there’s huge potential for that,” Littman said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
BOC student leaders have been leading remote programming focused on doing this deeper learning about the land they regularly interact with, including a four-week Anti-Racism in the Outdoors (ARO) program created by Abby Wu ’21, Shona Ortiz ’21 and Ayana Harscoet ’21 that took place in two virtual sessions over the summer. Dart expressed that the content of this program was vital to the BOC.
“[The program] had a trajectory starting with the deep historical causes of systemic racism in the United States and then progressed into more and more like things like … environmental justice and what that means for the outdoor industry,” Dart said. “It culminated in us trying to build a lot of action steps for the BOC moving forward with diversity, equity [and] inclusion work.”
Another initiative was a virtual speaker series in partnership with the Native American Student Association (NASA), one of which featured Deb Haaland, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress and the newly confirmed Secretary of the Interior.
In addition to looking to the BOC’s future and creating programming aimed at making the group more focused on equity and justice, the BOC has started leading trips for students living on campus or off campus with on-campus privileges. Woodruff emphasized the importance of considering COVID safety protocols, but he also explained the role trips play in student wellbeing.
“Getting students off campus on outdoor trips is certainly a contributor to health and wellness,” Woodruff said. “So [we’re] being mindful of where we’re sending groups and making sure that they’re thinking about minimizing their exposure to groups of people.”
The BOC typically offers overnight excursions, but it has not done so thus far during the spring semester; the question of whether it will be able to do so later is still uncertain, as is much else at this point.
Dart, who will be graduating in the spring, has put a lot of thought into how he will leave the BOC.
“I think it would be really important to leave behind a legacy that starts breaking the traditional mold of [questioning] who’s the student face of the Outing Club?” Dart said.
While both current and future members of the BOC leadership team are considering inclusivity, it is proving to be a gradual process. Continuing to have these conversations is important to allow all Bowdoin students to experience all that the BOC has to offer.
“Meeting more and more people from around Bowdoin who I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise at all [has been my favorite part of the BOC],” Dart said. “[I’ve loved] spending really meaningful, productive time outside, getting to know what Maine has to offer.”
Even for students who are unable to participate in LT this semester because they are off campus, such as Paul Wang ’24, the possibility of being involved in the Outing Club in the future is a source of hope.
“Growing up in a densely populated metropolitan area, it’s kind of amazing being in a completely different space and how close these amazing views and destinations are just miles from campus,” Wang said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Just kind of amazing and kind of eye opening and hopefully I can further explore that in the next couple of years.”