March 17, 2023 | NEWS | By Isabella Ingersoll & Michael Braithwaite, Co-Editors-In-Chief
Colorado College Outdoor Education has eliminated the off-campus, overnight portion of the Priddy Experience, said New Student Orientation director Amy Hill and CCOE director Ryan Hammes in a brainstorming meeting Wednesday.
The purpose of the meeting, one of a series of brainstorming sessions hosted by CCOE in Worner Campus Center, was to communicate this information and prompt current students and NSO leaders to brainstorm new ways to make the on-campus portion of the orientation meaningful and fun for first-year students.
At the meeting, Hill and Hammes declared overnight camping to be off the table for the Fall 2023 NSO, explaining that they made the decision regarding concerns for the mental health of incoming students as well as more general logistical difficulties.
“Right before COVID hit, I had to go out and do five evacuations for suicidal ideations. Five different trips [where] students needed to go get mental health help,” said Hammes.
Logistical concerns included finding suitable campsites for large groups, transportation, abundance and quality of food, and trained leaders to lead the off-campus adventures.
Historically, NSO involved both on and off-campus portions, with the Priddy Experience featuring service-based, outdoor trips during the orientation. As recently as 2019, students were given the choice of selecting a backpacking, car camping, or city-based experience based on their varying comforts with the outdoors, with all options involving some level of service.
For many students, these trips were unforgettable.
“I was honestly miserable during orientation, super socially anxious, hiding and crying between events until [the Priddy] trip and it changed everything,” said Ella Neurohr ‘22. “Suddenly I wasn’t only okay with college starting but actually really stoked to be here and felt for the first time like I picked the right school for me.”
The class of 2023 is currently the most recent class to participate in a full Priddy Experience not impacted by the effects of COVID-19. Students who started at CC in the Falls of 2020 and 2021 experienced a modified version of Priddy, with Zoom calls and day hikes in Colorado Springs replacing the overnight trips which typically ventured into the greater American Southwest.
For many students, the full Priddy Experience was an appealing part of beginning their college career at CC. Incoming prospective students, some of whom received their acceptance to the college as recently as Tuesday afternoon, may also have been looking forward to the overnight Priddy Experience based on previous college communications.
However, CCOE has been working for months to ensure students interested in the Priddy Experience would not be misled about the nature of the program.
“Three months ago, we stripped all of our website’s [mentions of] overnight camping. We started to change language, take down the schedules, and have more [information about local trips] so that it’s not as misleading or confusing. We do expect there to be disappointment,” said Hill.
“From 2020, what we learned from when we had the all online [experience], the outcry from that was insane,” said Hammes. “‘Oh my god, I picked CC because of these trips.’ I was like really? A quarter million dollars in tuition for a five-day trip where you go paint fences? Like that’s what you picked CC for?”
But some students expressed anger and confusion at the decision, remembering how meaningful their experiences were to them. On Wednesday morning, many seniors filled their class GroupMe with messages vocalizing their disappointment and anger towards the news.
For some students, these expressions of anger and disappointment were coming from a place of closeness with CCOE and the Priddy Experience itself.
“I was really disappointed and just feel bad,” said Spencer Torres ‘24. “A lot of students really enjoyed the Priddy Experience. I did. I know all of my trip-ees did. I was just disappointed that the school didn’t seem to really be listening to students at all when they made this decision, and it frustrates me that they keep claiming that they are.”
“I really think the Priddy Experience is something that you just can’t get on campus,” said Koray Gates ‘25. “The kind of tight-knit bonding experience that students have with their leaders and also their fellow group members.”
Torres and Gates were NSO interns last summer, two of the five people in charge of planning most of the orientation as well as the modified Priddy Experience. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic coming to a close, many organizations that had partnered with CC in the past could no longer host the number of students they had previously. The NSO interns were charged with rebuilding those connections.
“We planned most of Priddy,” said Torres. “We organized the bus schedules. We were in communication with all of the community service sites, with the camping sites. Everything that had to do with Priddy was organized at least in part by the interns.”
Despite the NSO interns having to fully reconstruct the Priddy Experience from scratch, the general feedback from first-year surveys, according to Torres, was fairly positive. The recent decision to do away with the off-campus aspect of the Priddy Experience has the potential to erase the vast majority of that work, and, in turn, the newly established connections made by those interns.
So why is CCOE cutting the overnight trips?
“The reasoning is not funding,” said Alice Schubert ‘25, who is both NSO and Winter Start Orientation Priddy leader as well as a CCOE Trip Coordinator. “[Overnight Priddy] is a lot to put on everyone, and [CCOE] doesn’t have any of the forces.”
At Wednesday’s brainstorming session, Hill and Hammes reiterated the lack of resources available to run the Priddy Experience in its full form.
“We don’t have places to sleep people, we can’t feed them, and we can’t get them there,” said Hill.
Hammes agreed. “I honestly don’t think we have enough Outdoor Ed leaders to make it really happen,” the CCOE director said. “It’s not a money thing y’all, it’s really not.”
The leaders went on to state that they were falling well short of the needed 176 trip leaders to run the full Priddy Experience. “Like, 28 students have gone through trip leader training this year,” said Hill.
However, some leaders do not buy this explanation from the NSO administrative team.
“[These decisions] are obviously just to save money,” said Torres. “If you’re gonna cut it because of money, then just cut it. But don’t say that it’s helping us by cutting it when in reality most students had a great Priddy Experience.”
Historically, the Priddy Experience has been funded by the Priddy Grant. But this hasn’t been the case for a while.
“That generous donation has been used up for a while now and the school has been just supplementing it since it’s such a valuable program,” said Gates.
Hill and Hammes have made it clear that funding was not part of their decision. Mental health was.
As they noted in their NSO brainstorming meeting on Wednesday, mental health is another of the primary reasons for cutting the overnight portion of Priddy, a concern that was present even before the pandemic.
“Maybe it isn’t the best idea to be like ‘Hi, welcome to campus, never mind, go somewhere you’ve never been before with people you’ve never met before and do something you’ve never done before for four days, and you don’t get Internet, you don’t get privacy,’” said Schubert.
Throughout Wednesday’s meeting, Hammes and Hill continued to return to the 2019 evacuation of five students from the Priddy Experience for demonstrating suicidal ideations. These occurrences played a significant role in their decision to prioritize students’ mental health in their re-envisionment of the NSO experience.
While understanding the gravity of having five separate students removed from the program due to these concerns in the same year, Torres also pointed out that Priddy Trips are capable of fostering a healthy sense of vulnerability, enabling students to open up about their pre-existing mental health struggles.
“I personally, before Priddy, didn’t feel like I had any sort of close person I could go to with problems. RAs are definitely more of an authority figure, you don’t really get a lot of time to get to know them,” he said. “It’s easier to relate to [Priddy Leaders].”
CCOE encourages students to share any feedback or ideas they re-envision the Priddy Experience for Fall 2023, but they’ve made it clear that their decision to remove the overnight portion is final.
“We did a successful overnight Priddy Experience this year, with all of the conditions that they listed, with positive student survey results, and they’re still canceling it,” said Torres. “It’s just not the full picture.”