Momentum Award: Outdoor Club

On a tour of almost any major university in the United States, a question that inevitably gets asked is, “How can I get involved?” And at almost every university, prospective students are told not only about the clubs offered at that school, but also the opportunities for students to create their own clubs if none exist that meet their specific interests.

As Keegan Dougherty, A&S ’13, Ben Key, BC ’11, Carl Ceraolo, A&S ’14, and the other leaders of the Outdoor Club of Boston College (OCBC) have learned throughout the past three years, that process can be a lot more challenging than some tour guides may lead you to believe.

The idea of OCBC was conceived three years ago by a group of students who, according to current president and co-founder Dougherty, “saw a real need for an Outdoor Club on campus.” At the time, Dougherty, along with Key, former president and co-founder, attempted to begin the process of bringing that vision to realization.

“The club was born, naturally, out of a desire for BC to facilitate trips into the woods for me,” Key said in an e-mail. “There has always been a wilderness compulsion in me, and lacking an official club, I had to get sort of creative. I resorted to standing up in classes a few times and announcing I was going backpacking the next weekend, inviting anyone who was interested. I made a lot of friends that way, actually, once I’d been Facebook-vetted-but I don’t look like an ax murderer.”

The reality that Key and Dougherty faced was that the entangled bureaucracy of the University made it challenging for them to start a club that could involve potential liabilities that it would have to absorb in order to insure some of the club’s excursions. The two were unfazed, however, and began the process of organizing the club, despite lacking official recognition by the University.

Realizing that they needed a real organization behind them if they were going to convince BC of the necessity of having an Outdoor Club, and in spite of the University’s opposition to them even holding meetings, the two created a listserv, gathered members interested in what the club could offer, and petitioned Student Programs Office (SPO) on a weekly basis.

“I realized that BC clubs were largely dedicated to campus demographics: race, religion, politics, and academic majors,” Key said. “Of course there are the comedy groups and a cappella, but if you’re not funny and have no desire to sing without musical accompaniment, you’re out of luck … I wanted a club in which kids from all the other [smaller and more specific clubs] could also be members, and get to know each other. I envisioned OCBC as a flagship in this regard, a group that would lead the way toward a new chapter for SPO in which the administration helped to facilitate unity across the full BC spectrum through broad organizations.”

And that mission is still critical to the club today, as it continues to establish a foothold on campus and still pushes the University to allow them to broaden their offerings to students. This involves making sure that all students at BC can get involved with the club.

“If you’re a BC student and you hear about one of our trips, you’re welcome to come,” Dougherty said. This is because the club wants to remain as open as possible to all students , which, Dougherty said, involves balancing the traditional structure of a club with their a more user-friendly organization.

Part of making sure that the club is open to everyone involves finding students certified to lead its trips. This brings to the forefront another component of the club, its educational aspect. The club works with its members to help them get certified to lead trips. Ceraolo, who is involved with Eagle EMS, even helped organize a special class held by that organization specifically for the Outdoor Club, which focused on First Aid certification, hands-on CPR, and outdoor-related injuries, demonstrating that the Outdoor Club is as much dedicated to hosting events that everyone can attend as it is to making sure that students on their trips are prepared and safe. This is shown through the club’s three pillars: safety, leadership and community; experience, skills, education; and appreciation for the outdoors.

While the club has unquestionably been successful in generating student interest, and has made significant progress by becoming an RSO, they still face difficulties while trying to organize events under the watch of the University, particularly because the club and the Student Programming Office have different visions of what the club is to become. While Dougherty and Ceraolo stressed the importance of having their events be student-led, the University has required them to book events through third parties in order to remove potential liabilities for the University.

During this past semester, the group’s first as an Registered Student Organization (RSO), those differing visions almost prevented the club from hosting any events. While the club had held meetings in March where potential student event leaders pitched their ideas to the club and got over 150 members to sign up, the University told the club in April, just before these events were supposed to be held, that they could no longer have student-led events, effectively freezing their activities. Despite these difficulties, Dougherty, Ceraolo, and the club’s leadership, left with very little time to hold any events due to a delayed response from the University, still held two successful excursions this past weekend.

Considering the challenges that still exist, the club has a difficult road ahead. “As much progress as we’ve made, this club is still in its infancy,” Dougherty said. “The only foundational aspect that’s missing is the full support of the administration.”

Next year, under the leadership of Ceraolo, the club will continue to stay focused on its goals, just as it has for the past three years, as it has risen from an idea to an RSO. “Student-led trips have always been the focus of the OCBC,” Ceraolo said. In order to continue highlighting that point, the group wants students to be able to keep contributing ideas to the club as it looks to work with the University to host more events outside of Boston. A great amount of progress has been made through the hard work of the group’s members, and their members hope to continue dedicating their efforts toward bringing their visions for the club to fruition.