Outdoor Education Center and On The Loose Clash Over Control

Relations between student leaders of the 5C outdoors club On The Loose (OTL) and Pomona College administrators have worsened recently due to disputes over student autonomy within the leadership of OTL, a source of tension that has existed since the founding of Pomona’s Outdoor Education Center (OEC) in 2011. 

This year, co-directors of OTL have split from the OEC in protest of policy changes made by the administration they perceive to be altering the fundamental structure of the club as a student-run organization. Recently, club members have held meetings to discuss the future of the organization and format a plan to present to the administration. According to OTL “elder” Laura Muñoz PO ’14, the organization plans to meet with administrative staff next week to discuss the organization’s requests to ensure the future success of the organization in serving the interests of OTL, the OEC, and 5C students.

According to Howie Vogt PO ’13, one of three co-directors of OTL who has chosen to remain independent from the center, the decision to keep the group separate from was an ideological one.

“I left the [center] because OTL is not just a room on campus. The spirit of being on the loose resides in nature’s promise of rugged freedom and equality that students should preserve. We are, and will always be, crazy kids on the loose,” Vogt said.

Since its founding, the club has served as a resource for students to explore the wilderness, from funding trip expenses and providing gear to the creation of Pomona’s Orientation Adventure (OA) program. According to co-director Megan Farrell PO ’13, OTL is the largest student-run group of its kind in the nation.

“I went to an outdoor recreation conference with schools from all over the West Coast, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, everywhere. No one, no school that was there, has a student-managed, student-run club in which students can become certified leaders and can lead their own trips,” Farrell said.

However, leaders claim that the independence they have had in the past began to diminish when the center was founded by Pomona in response to OTL leaders’ desire to have a larger space for their operations.

Prior to the construction of Sontag Hall and Pomona Hall, OTL was located in a small, somewhat confined space in Walker Lounge. About five years ago, that storage space began to run out due to the expansion of the club, and negotiations began between students and administrators to build what student leaders wanted to call the “Outdoor Recreation Center.”

When the new residence halls at Pomona were constructed, a space was included for the new OEC, which the college created, according to an article on Pomona’s website written by Laura Tiffany in September 2011, to be “the organizing force behind recreation and learning in the College’s environs.”

The college designed the OEC to offer wilderness first aid training classes, credited P.E. classes, and leadership-training workshops on top of allowing OTL to continue its operations. The center had purchased its own gear, but when OTL moved in, the gear was only accessible to center employees, not OTL leaders.

While the club still rents out gear to Claremont students and subsidizes outdoor trips, OEC employee and OTL member Lucy Bosche SC ’13 said not having a truly autonomous space for the club to function is against the founding principles of OTL.

“This physical space is called the OEC. This is not OTL. OTL has a tiny hole-in-the-wall office down there [indicating down the hall], which is separate from our gear. I know that it might not sound that important, the idea of not having a physical space connected with gear, but that is what OTL is,” Bosche said.

Club organizer and OEC employee Dinu Duri PO ’15 said that changes that emerged when the OEC was founded have affected OTL leaders’ abilities to perform their duties and maintain the club’s 5C culture.

According to Duri, on top of OTL leaders only being able to check out equipment through the center, OTL organizers who work for the OEC are not allowed to work on reimbursements for trips, which she said is one of their most important functions.

“We’re not allowed to do OTL-related work during our OEC shifts. So we can’t work on reimbursements for trips, which is a really big part of the outdoor culture at the 5Cs,” Duri said. “OTL is a 5C organization, but OEC is very Pomona-based.”

The final point of conflict between the two entities is that as Outdoor Education Staff, students are required to reapply from year to year. Previously, OTL organizers had been paid by the club to perform their duties and kept their positions for as long as they wanted after being hired once.

After the creation of the center, all but three club organizers were absorbed as OEC staff and were then required to abide by OEC policy, which includes yearly evaluations and reapplications.

Senior Coordinator of the OEC Martin Crawford said the policy is no different than any other on-campus job.

“Just like any job on campus you have to reapply. If you’re going to work at the Coop, you don’t just automatically do it. You reapply, and you get interviewed again,” Crawford said.

Bosche commented that when club organizers began working for the OEC, the introduction of the reapplication process was very different from previous club policy and was interpreted as the administration’s rejection of OTL tradition.

“That in of itself comes as such a shock, because OTL staff work here because we love it. We are so passionate about this, so the idea of ‘Oh, we’re changing things around so much that you probably aren’t even going to want to be here anymore’ really read like ‘We don’t want you here anymore,’” Bosche said.

According to Bosche, the heart of the conflict between students and administrators is that the administration responded to OTL’s desire to expand the influence of student leadership by appropriating the once student-run organization.

“I personally feel like it’s been easy for the administration to manipulate the history of OTL and just say, like, ‘This is what you wanted. You wanted the OEC to exist,’” Bosche said. “It’s true that OTL was asking for a different location. We wanted to be open more hours. There were ways that we wanted to expand, but now we answer to Martin [Crawford] because he’s the one who’s paying us, and he’s the one with hiring capacity, and so the spirit of student leadership is gone.”

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