Life Lessons in the Outdoors

A reflection on race both inside and out of the CC community


Like some students at Colorado College, participating in an Outward Bound program was a vital part of my character development and probably one of the main reasons why I am at CC today. I hold my time with Outward Bound closely to my heart. It was the first time that I truly fostered a love and connection with nature.

Photo courtesy of Mary Murphy

Being on a river for 16 days brought me a tremendous amount of peace. I felt enlightened as my paddle would rotate in the water and sprinkles of the Colorado River would cool my extremely chapped knees. I loved how the dragonflies would dance over the still water, and every so often they would rest themselves on our paddles as we floated on, taking in all of the scenery of the vast canyon walls with stacked layers of reds, and browns, and juniper bushes peeking out of the wall cracks. In those moments, my fast-paced life ceased. I was only in the water, admiring the beauty around me. No matter how fast or slow the current was, the constant flow of the river helped me to stay present. The current was what was important and what mattered.

This rafting and kayaking course was absolutely life changing for me, as I’m sure it is for many students. Outward Bound is more than adventures, it is a leadership school. In the wake of the horrible email received over Spring Break, this makes me think about how so many beloved alumni of OB, the National Outdoor Leadership School and other popular outdoor experience organizations, will take action. I know, as an OB alum, I have learned leadership and community skills that I’m still using on a daily basis three years later.

I also question the greater outdoor community of CC and how this community will take action to dismantle racism and white supremacy in outdoor settings. Does it even matter? We must not separate social justice and outdoor recreation. The outdoors is often known as a place to seek peace, be refreshed, and have fun. On the other hand, the amount of racism that people of color continue to experience in the outdoors is unnerving.

The outdoor community at CC is so prevalent and loud, yet many choose not to speak out or take action with social justice issues. But if we love the outdoors and strive to protect the environment, we can’t forget the crucial role of people and conversation. We have to critically look into who has a seat at the table in these conversations. It’s disheartening to hear people get defensive when others even dare to mention about how white and exclusive the outdoor community is, but we can all condemn a racist email.

The outdoors is so special—that much I have learned—but we should all pay more attention to the horrible truths of our favorite outdoor places and be more aware of how white supremacy is prevalent in the recreation and environmental industries. Who knows and calls Pikes Peak by the Ute (true) name, Tava?

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