The Bates Outing Club (BOC) is deeply ingrained within Bates’ history. It began in 1920 and is one of the oldest outing clubs in the United States as well as the oldest outing club for a co-ed institution. It is tasked with running several Bates traditions such as Bates AESOP and the Bates Winter Carnival which features the famous puddle jump.
Thus, the BOC isn’t like any other club at Bates. It’s unique in the fact that this club arranges so many of the activities and events that students look forward to throughout the year.
On June 18, the Instagram account @DearPWI posted a story from a BIPOC student from Bates who attended a BOC meeting. The unnamed student wrote about an experience when the president of the club brought up initiatives to try and diversify the club and then heard white students utter things such as that “[club members have] tried to be inclusive” and “we can’t have too many beginner trips, that’s going to slow us down.”
In response to this post, the BOC released a statement on their Instagram account, writing that they have been “a white and male-dominated space on campus” and said that they have failed the BIPOC community at Bates. To learn the true extent to which these stories go, the BOC created an anonymous form in which students can tell their stories of how BOC has hurt them.
Anna Mangum ‘21, the current BOC president, said that this summer the club has met several times virtually to discuss how and why the club seems to primarily attract white and privileged students.
Elliott Vahey ‘23, the community liaison of the BOC, said that at first it was difficult for her to join the club due the meetings still being male-dominated, but she was able to assimilate due to her prior outdoors experience.
The Bates Outing Club has been criticized for its exclusivity in the past. In 2018, a staff member of The Bates Student wrote a forum article titled “AESOP and the Outing Club are Made of White Privilege.”
The response to the article was harsh; many students avidly defended the club, sent the author hateful messages, and threatened to boycott The Bates Student. The article caused such a stir, Fox News ran a short segment on the piece.
While discussions in the club took place after the article was published, change has come slowly.
During the February break of this past school year, the BOC arranged several beginner-focused trips in order to get more people with less experience involved with the club. A major turnoff for beginners can be the fact that BOC trips are often overnight and involve expensive gear that the BOC doesn’t always provide such as winter wear. Plus, it’s hard to gain experience when beginner trips aren’t widely offered.
Recognizing these issues, the BOC made the trips all beginner level and less than five hours long; all costs were also handled, including food.
The members involved with these trips recognized that the outdoors can be an exclusive place especially to minority groups, and they acknowledge that the BOC hasn’t always been the best at providing a space for people to feel welcome.
Jin Wei ‘21 was part of organizing the February trip. He said that “in most meetings, you can barely find non-white students in the meeting room.” Wei explained that this can be intimidating to many students since active club members “constitute a homogeneous demographic and lifestyle, resulting in a lack of representation for different students to picture themselves fitting in.”
Mangum also acknowledges the privilege of doing outdoor sports and that many of these activities have a history of taking place in spaces associated with violence for many cultures and races.
“For one to not have access to [Ski related resources] prior to college, it would be difficult to just jump into the BOC to learn to ski. The BOC has been a good space for people who already have had the experience to meet other people who also have experience. It doesn’t cater as well to beginners and doesn’t always take into account why certain barriers exist and what those barriers look like,” Mangum stated.
When asked if she could guess what percentage of the club has members that are truly beginners, Vahey said that a majority of the active club members have had prior experience in at least one outdoor sport.
She continued and said that “the trips do reach people outside of the club,” but these people still have had prior experience.
In response to how these trips are usually advertised, respondents said they are shared primarily by the email listserv. However, Mangum said that last year the club started discussing a new method for trip planning that requires members to fill out forms to register trips.
For this semester, Mangum wants to expand this by continuing to make it more accessible to sign up for trips (however those trips may be run in COVID times). Mangum said that she has even contacted other NESCAC outing clubs and found that most other clubs have a website where trips are uploaded. She hopes to work with these outing clubs to set up something similar at Bates.
The BOC Instagram statement also noted that “the purpose of the club is to be a resource for all students at Bates to be able to explore the outdoors, but in practice it has primarily been a resource for white, wealthy, and experienced students.”
In response to why she thinks the club has a diversity issue, Vahey responded that “it’s because the BOC is…a part of Bates and the American college system, it’s systematically, racist homophobic and sexist.”
The BOC, Vahey said, has “had the privilege in the past to not actively be fighting systems of oppression and to say we’re inclusive but not active on how our club can be actively anti-racist and act against symptoms of oppression.”
The BOC recognizes its role in this, and Vahey recited that “our purpose as a club is a systemic solution and not just a club solution.”
Mangum said that the BOC is “a microcosm of a larger issue that is racism in the outdoors and how white people capitalize upon wilderness spaces.”
Considering the fact that most of the active BOC members usually have experience, the lack of advertisement for the events, and the fees that, though rarely, are involved creates an environment that excludes students that are on financial aid, students who have limited to no experience with the outdoors, and students who may be interested in the club, but may have difficulty learning details about these trips. This comes to a head when BIPOC may be all three of these types of students at Bates.
To help bridge this divide, Mangum said they “hope to do more collaborations with other clubs to whatever extent that’s possible this semester and then continue to do trip collabs when things return to normal.”
For Mangum, her goal for the future would be for the BOC to have an organized system to sign up for trips that is more clear about what level a trip is and offers teaching opportunities for people who want to learn skills.
The BOC has boasted for decades about its unique status as the oldest club on campus and “[getting] Bobcats closer to nature since 1920,” according to Mangum. However, Mangum now wants to change this message and no longer have the club focus on the BOC’s past, but rather have the new message align with their anti-racism, equity, and inclusion mission and goals.
“I want the BOC to give back to the whole Bates community and help lift those up in the outdoors who have felt excluded, scared, or just don’t have experience in the outdoors,” she said. “I hope we can synthesize our learning this year and make lasting change within the club. Whereas in the past, there have been a lot of individuals who have put in this work, there hasn’t really been enough momentum to enact big changes in the club.”
With COVID-19 affecting even the outdoor community, Mangum said she hopes that the BOC can use this time to make the club more inclusive and accessible to all members of the Bates community.