Opinion

Ramble Outdoors Changes Reflect Loyola’s Changed Values

Hannah Krumbhaar (second from left) and other Loyola seniors visited Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia, as part of a Ramble Outdoors trip in March 2014. The trip allowed students a chance to reflect on upcoming post-graduation life.

Ad majorem dei gloriam. It’s the motto of our university, and it means “for the greater glory of God.” I have always understood this phrase to also mean “for the greater glory of others,” and not in the utilitarian sense — that is, the greatest good for the greatest number — but rather that each individual and his or her experience is important.

Several changes that have occurred since Loyola’s former president, the Rev. Michael Garanzini, S.J., resigned in March 2015 demonstrate that this institution is no longer interested in the individual. I now clearly see that the university, now operating in something of a power vacuum, is interested in numbers: saving money, easing liability and turning individuals into numbers on a list.

I became a leader with Ramble Outdoors, formally known as Outdoor Experiential Education at Loyola, two years ago, during my senior undergraduate year. I decided to stay at Loyola to continue my graduate education so I could continue to be a Ramble Outdoors leader.

Ramble Outdoors exists to meaningfully connect urban students with each other and the environment. It has been providing students with deep and meaningful experiences through trips to Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin and many places in between since our beginnings in 2010. The use of journey-based education has provided our participants with unique and transformative outdoor educational experiences that cannot be mirrored or replaced with purely on-campus events.

Ramble Outdoors is currently affiliated with the challenge course at Loyola’s Retreat and Ecology Campus and the rock wall in Halas, and previously we have hosted outdoor trips. The changes Ramble Outdoors has experienced this academic year illustrate Loyola’s commitment to the bottom line over Jesuit values.

Last September, Loyola’s Division of Student Development informed Ramble Outdoors, with no warning or substantial evidence to back up their claims, that we are no longer allowed to travel off campus.  Jane Neufeld, Vice President of the Division of Student Development, announced in an interview with The PHOENIX that Ramble Outdoors will be “redirecting the talents and energy of the [Ramble Outdoors] team to develop more opportunities on all of our campuses.”

Neufeld argued that the changes would reduce risk and allow Ramble Outdoors to reach more students. But Ramble Outdoors has never had any kind of accident or injury on any of our trips. And we would be able to reach more students by providing activities both on- and off-campus.

As a consequence of the Division of Student Development’s new restriction, our program director resigned in December so that he could pursue his passions and share his talents with students elsewhere. Then, at the start of the new year, the Division of Student Development made the decision to reorganize several job duties within its office of Student Complexes, which encompasses many student life experiences, including Ramble Outdoors. The “restructuring” took away responsibilities from individuals who were educated in and passionate about outdoor education and asked them to perform duties which their backgrounds are not relevant to.

I feel, in alignment with my Ignatian values, it would be unjust and disrespectful to the 2,000 participants I have had the joy to work with, my 41 fellow facilitators, countless mentors and our Ramble Outdoors advocates not to stand up for what I believe in and not to stand up for the program that has transformed me. In order to live out the Jesuit values I have learned at Loyola, it is my duty to challenge the bureaucratic system that has decimated a program that embodies Loyola’s mission.

Throughout all of these changes in this small subset of the university, it has been evidenced to me that the Division of Student Development does not feel that the desires of students, faculty and staff are important. And many of the same problems have occurred within the Division of Student Development as a whole, directly contradicting its mission and vision, as well as the idea — central to Loyola’s Jesuit appeal — that students will learn about living out Ignatian values traditions through all the communities they are involved with.

Whether it is the cuts being made to programming in Ramble Outdoors, job changes that take away from people’s passions, the fact that it took many months to hire a new Residence Life director, the significant lack of professional staff within the offices of The Department of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, the elimination of the Office of Second Year Experience or the many actions related to the demonstration policy, we need to educate ourselves as students and consumers.

Ultimately, this university is a business. It is in the university’s best interest to not inform its consumers why a significant number of professional staff have chosen to resign from their positions, or why programs and departments have been eradicated. It is our duty as members of this community to ask the big “why” questions and to push back against autocratic decision making.

We are “Chicago’s Jesuit university,” not just any university. It’s important to me to bring to light that we are no longer, as an institution, teaching our students through action about what it means to be Jesuit.

I feel that the Division of Student Development has done a disservice not only to Loyola, but to the Jesuit values the Division claims to uphold in its mission and vision. Loyola continues to advertise the values of seeking the Magis (“the more”), living life for the greater glory of God, caring for others and living a life dedicated to truth, justice and service to humanity. However, these advertised values have been adulterated by the Division of Student Development’s pursuit of money and continuing autocratic agenda.

The Division of Student Development’s vision states, “We will engage and support students in developing the personal values skills, and competencies … in pursuit of a life dedicated to … service to humanity.” And in its mission, the department vows to “support the university’s mission by offering programs … to students as they experience personal transformations of a Jesuit education.”

I question how cutting programs, paring down jobs, not hiring professional staff in a timely manner and not informing students of these changes transparently reflects on the Divisional vision and mission.

As I plan to graduate from this university in May, I am left with conflicting feelings. I am grateful to all of the wonderful people I have connected with, learned from and continue to nurture relationships with. Ramble Outdoors upholds the philosophy of “Leave No Trace” — in other words, you should leave a community more beautiful than you have found it. I am heartbroken over the fact that I am leaving this university worse off than I found it.

This institution is becoming a part of social justice issues instead of fighting against them, and it is no longer teaching Ignatian values through example. The Division of Student Development is ignoring the talents and passions of individual students and staff.

What breaks my heart the most about the decisions made by the Division of Student Development is that the most important thing I have learned from Loyola, the value that I hold closest to my heart and express most in my identity — to seek the Magis in all that I do — is no longer being embodied in the community where I feel most at home.

I want to remind the Loyola community of the importance of staying informed about the changes occurring all around us, advocate for people to find what inspires them and encourage the community to fight for these passions (“Go forth and set the world on fire,” in the words of St. Ignatius). If there is a community you are involved in on campus, continue to seek out information about changes, ask “why,” ask for the evidence and always question the motive.

This university will always be a business and will always work from a business-minded agenda. As consumers, we hold the power to voice our support or aversion to proposed changes. Unless we, as a community, speak out about our own vision for what we want this community to be, the university will continue to push its own agenda without consideration for “the greater glory of others”.

I will part ways with Loyola in May, and I can say with certainty that I will continue to live my life in pursuit of the Magis. I wonder if you, as individuals and as part of a university, will as well.

Hannah Krumbhaar is a second-year graduate student studying social work and a challenge course facilitator for Loyola’s Office for Outdoor Experiential Education.

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