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Residential Education grants one-year extension to Outdoor House’s theme following pushback

Decision to put theme on one-year hiatus resulted from ‘miscommunication’ between the house and ResEd

(Courtesy of Katherine Van Kirk)

Residential Education (ResEd) will allow Outdoor House to retain its theme for another year, in a reversal of its controversial decision  — announced on Nov. 27 — to put the residence’s “Outdoor Education” theme on a one-year hiatus.

In an email to residents announcing the decision’s reversal, House staff called the initial decision “an administrative misstep that resulted from broken communication channels.”

Stripping Outdoor House of its theme would have discontinued the residence’s partnership with Stanford’s Outdoor Center, which contributes $10,000 per year to Outdoor House programming.

As a result, students would no longer be able to pre-assign into the house, instead drawing in as they would any other house in Suites.

The staff’s email to residents was sent by Daniel Henry ’20, one of Outdoor House’s Academic Theme Associates. Henry wrote that ResEd and the Outdoor House were “apparently on two different pages” about the house’s status as a pilot program this year.

According to Henry, ResEd moved to put the house’s theme on a one-year hiatus because it viewed Outdoor House as a three-year pilot program coming to a close rather than a “permanent addition” to campus, whereas the staff saw the continuance of the theme for a fourth year as a sign of the pilot’s success.

In a Nov. 30 email to Outdoor House staff members, ResEd Interim Associate Vice Provost Koren Bakkegard said she had “reflected on this issue over the last few days” before extending Outdoor House’s theme.

Bakkegard’s announcement followed an email from residence staff to Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole expressing their disagreement, and came shortly before a meeting that afternoon which the staff were scheduled to attend with Bakkegard and Brubaker-Cole. Outdoor Staff requested that the meeting occur despite Bakkegard’s email, and used their time to deliver 43 pages of testimonials representing over 100 perspectives from residents emphasizing the significance of the community to them.

[Outdoor House] Staff made consistent reports on our progress over the past several years,” Henry wrote. “Now in our fourth year, we have seen the growth of our community into one of most tightly-knit, inclusive and passionate communities on campus.”

Henry said the miscommunication also stemmed from confusion surrounding ongoing efforts by the recently convened Committee on Residential Life (CoRL), which aims to create a process for developing “purposeful communities” on campus, including evaluating, approving and supporting themed houses on campus. The new process for decision-making around themed houses is still in development, Henry wrote.

“The intention was for the pilot program [Outdoor House] to be put on hiatus and wait a year until this process was ready to be rolled out and we could formally go through it,” he added.

Bakkegaard stated in her email that Outdoor House will be able to join in the new process “to discuss existing programs and consider proposals for new programs.”

CoRL is separate from the ResX Task Force, convened by Provost Persis Drell in April as part of Stanford’s long-range planning process to develop a series of recommendations for redesigning undergraduate residential life. Yesterday, Brubaker-Cole sent a University-wide email update on the status of the ResX Task Force, stating that the group is moving from the information-gathering phase of its process to developing recommendations for Drell.

Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris confirmed that miscommunication about the pilot program was what led to the earlier decision to suspend the theme.

Despite commenting on miscommunication, Henry said that ResEd was “transparent and helpful” during its Friday meeting with Outdoor House staff and that Bakkegaard and Brubaker-Cole were “wonderfully active listeners as we portrayed the magic of our community.”

Bakkegard wrote in her email to house staff that ResEd will set up another meeting with them and Stanford Outdoor Education to discuss staff selection and pre-assignment for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Henry emphasized that staff is “grateful that ResEd rectified the decision” and expressed appreciation for all those who advocated for Outdoor House.

“We deeply appreciate the outpouring of support from students, alumni and faculty,” he closed his email. “The amount of love and support created by this community has never been so tangibly apparent.”

 

Contact Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu and Hannah Knowles at hknowles ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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