For many prospective students, one of the big draws for Colorado College is its student involvement in outdoor culture and community; yet is this “outdoor culture” actually accessible to everyone? While outdoor activities may appear to be equally offered or equally accessible for all communities on campus, these activities are still subject to societal oppressions that stem from stereotypes surrounding race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic class. This issue is seen throughout Outdoor Recreation Committee (ORC) trips as well as in everyday life. Among my female peers for example, I encounter hesitation to participate in activities such as climbing or hiking because of a “lack of strength” when compared with men’s abilities. More recently, the ORC and staff at the Outdoor Education Center have been working to change Colorado College’s outlook on outdoor education and outdoor culture to be more inclusive for a broader range of people, but despite efforts to increase availability, disparities still exist.
These disparities are not endemic to Colorado College’s campus; they exist throughout society. A woman named Gina Bégin was interested specifically in this disparity between men’s and women’s participation in outdoor activities. Inspired by the gain in confidence she felt after getting involved in outdoor activities, she founded the Outdoor Women’s Alliance (OWA) in 2007 in Salt Lake City, Utah, to encourage other women to feel that same empowerment through connection to outdoor activities and other women. Now just over 10 years old, this volunteer-run nonprofit works to connect, and foster confidence in, women interested in outdoor activities such as skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, rock climbing, and wilderness adventure races.
In 2014, the OWA began to form grassroots teams which would serve a larger community by organizing outings and events. Grassroots teams now exist in the Front Range of Colorado, Wasatch Front of Utah, Central Oregon, British Columbia, Southern California, New England—Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and the state of Washington. Major bases are located in Salt Lake City, British Columbia, Canada, and Boulder, Colo. Additionally, they have created an online program so that women worldwide can both empower and be empowered by each other.
In the Front Range, the team leaders are Annie Lawson, Kayleen Castelli, and Jenny Verrochi. Founder of the Colorado Front Range team and manager of the grassroots teams in North America, Lawson has managed to make OWA known in Denver and Boulder, but the Front Range team also wants to expand into Fort Collins and Colorado Springs so that a larger group of women can join together.
OWA offers both individual and community programs, ranging from internships and organizational leadership roles at the individual level to local grassroots teams and global collaboration with professional athletes at the community level. Throughout their programs, their biggest goal is to form a supportive network that helps women access the resources and gain the motivation to achieve their full potential.
For women on the CC campus looking to get involved, explore the Outdoor Women’s Alliance Facebook groups and stay posted on new movements coming to Colorado Springs. And whether you are looking to get involved or not, remember to take a few minutes to get outside and explore with others. No matter who you are, everyone has the ability to foster more inclusivity and community through outdoor bonding. More importantly, as the OWA has demonstrated, this bonding can foster empowerment and achievement.