Green Places Do Not Mean White Spaces: How CC Approaches Racial Inclusivity in the Outdoors

Plastered on the front covers of outdoor magazines are thrilling images of kayakers plunging through untamed rapids and frost-covered skiers flying through clouds of powder. These publications showcase powerful athletes and adventures that “you too can experience!” However, after peeling the pricey wetsuits and chic goggles off of the models, one might notice that they are conspicuously white, and thus they might come to the realization that you can experience these outdoor endeavors under one condition: if you, too, are white.

Outdoor publications disproportionately feature white models within their glossy pages, and as a result, ‘the outdoors’ continues to be portrayed as a nearly exclusively white space. This racial disparity is especially prevalent in organized outdoor activity. As an institution that advertises its ‘adventurous spirit’ and its heavily-supported outdoor education system, Colorado College risks the consequences of prolonging the historically exclusive outdoorsy lifestyle.

Outdoor Education (OE) and additional CC student groups recognize this threat and aim to enforce racial inclusivity. Strategies include creating conversation, providing accessible resources, and encouraging involvement. Last week, the student group Conversations on Whiteness held a presentation about whiteness in the outdoors. The event was led by Riley Hutchings, junior economics major and COW member, and Director of Field Studies, Drew Cavin.

Hutchings wanted to clarify her intentions as a white student leading the conversation on inclusivity. “I, in no way, want to speak for people of color,” she said. “But I really want to promote their voices and to help take off the burden of taking down white supremacy at CC.” To recognize white supremacy in outdoor spaces, Hutchings began the meeting by asking attendees to define “wilderness”. Then she contrasted the group’s positive definition with the United States’ historically racist establishment of these areas. She elaborated on local Native American history and emphasized the implications of white expansion on their land. Cavin also provided a dissertation on racially-related constraints in the outdoors.  The event concluded with how CC was approaching inclusivity in the outdoors.

OE plays a role in many of those approaches by providing specified trips for students of color. In fact, two Outdoor Recreation Committee trips of the sort went out last weekend: Asian Student Union  had a day trip at Ski Cooper, and Black Women of Colorado College went snowshoeing at Jones Pass. Outdoor Education Specialist Rachael Abler commented on the importance of supporting these trips. “More often than not, there’s a misconception that something is not appropriate or available for certain people,” Abler said. “We try really hard to clarify that these opportunities are available to anyone and everyone if you want them.”

To communicate this concept, OE contacts student groups like ASU and BWCC about available resources and support. The group leaders are then encouraged to propose trips to OE throughout the year. The costs of these trips and their gear are heavily subsidized. Abler explained that OE restrains itself from proposing their own specified trips so as not to force an interest.

More importantly, OE hopes to foster an appreciation for the outdoors in students who return as leaders and inspire others like them to be involved. Atiya Harvey, senior feminist and gender studies major, is one of those leaders. As a student of color, a Level I ORC leader, and an outdoor enthusiast, Harvey recognizes the importance of sharing her experience with other students of color. “For me, it’s a very freeing and beautiful experience, and I want that to be given to other people,” Harvey said. “I’ve noticed that a lot of people of color don’t feel like it’s a space for them. I think part of that, for people with marginalized identities, is that being in that space means that you’re going to have to deal with an oppressive person.”

Harvey’s observations come from years of experience in the outdoors. In high school, she was involved with the Student Conservation Association and went on month-long camping trips. She has also been on many ORC trips. In all situations, Harvey was a racial minority and faced numerous racial confrontations alone. “I did the TREE semester last year and we stopped at Wilkerson Pass,” she recalled. “I wanted to buy a sticker so I went up and asked for one, and the man said ‘No, we have stamps’ and I was like ‘Dang, I left my passport.’ This man responds with ‘Oh where’d you leave it? In Africa?’” Harvey also encountered white camp-mates making offensive comments about race relations during the Trayvon Martin case, while carrying the social pressures of being a minority with limited cultural similarities to her fellow campers.

Despite these racial aggressions, Harvey remains devoted to pursuing and leading outdoor endeavors. Her devotion stems from an inspirational ORC leader who was courageous enough to have a conversation about her racial identity. “I felt seen, and I felt heard, and that was enough,” Harvey said. “Sometimes that’s what people need: to not feel alone, to not feel invisible, to not feel isolated. After that, I was dedicated to becoming a leader, so that I could be that leader to other people.” Harvey was a co-leader for the BWCC snowshoe trip last weekend. She also plans to lead a ski trip for Bridge Scholar Students and a rafting trip for the Glass House residents before she graduates in the spring.

CC’s endeavor to ensure racial inclusivity doesn’t end with Harvey’s or Outdoor Education’s actions. Director of Outdoor Education Ryan Hammes commented on the misconceptions that may result from overly-confident presentations of outdoor activities by students. “We all put our backpack on for the first time; we all put our climbing harness on for the first time; we all came from not knowing anything, so why is there this ego?” Hammes said. “We don’t want to tell our leaders how we want them to introduce their trip, but at the same time, how can we use inclusive language and keep the jargon and the lingo so it’s not turning some folks off or confusing people?” This conscious approach to inclusivity must be applied by the student body. Whether it entails using inclusive language, inviting an inexperienced friend to your Breckinridge cabin, or simply having a conversation, it is the responsibility of the CC community to pursue racial inclusivity, and to bring color to the white-washed representation of the outdoors.

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