Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Outdoors 

By: Audrey Mitchell, Biological Sciences; Ben Roueche, Computer Science; Emily Gage, Biology; Madi Fawcett, Computer Science; Sarah Schuller, Environmental Science & Spanish; Trudy Mickel, Psychology; Undergraduate Students

Next time you go skiing or on a popular hiking trail, look around, see what people you are sharing the outdoor space with. Do they look like you? Do you feel comfortable with the people you are sharing the space with?  If you have never taken notice of any of these things while enjoying nature you probably are a part of a privileged community. Outdoor spaces and recreation are not exempt from the systemic racism in this country. This permits the privileged to have easier access to nature and outdoor activities. Nature is often considered a space that exists outside the bounds of the racist system that the United States operates within, however, this is far from the truth. In 2017, white recreators made up 73% of outdoor participants, three times the number of Hispanic, Black and Asian participants combined (Outdoor Foundation, 2017). Outdoor spaces, from national parks to hiking trails to neighborhood parks, are crucial resources for children and adults to access not only for leisurely activities but also to support and maintain both mental and physical health.  

Unfortunately, not all groups of people have the same opportunity to access these shared outdoor spaces due to a variety of factors, more often than not stemming from the history of systemic racism and injustice in our country. The history of racism continues to limit communities from accessing the outdoors and recreating. Redlining and gentrification created geographic barriers to physically accessing nature and having neighborhood parks, concentrating parks and green spaces in higher-income neighborhoods that are predominantly white. Moreover, economic burdens restrict lower income communities from being able to spend time outdoors creating barriers to purchasing gear, entrance fees, and even the inability to take time off work and lose the wages or lack of available time to recreate. Least often acknowledged are the racial complexities that contribute to discomfort by some to participate in outdoor activities because outdoor spaces are predominantly white spaces. Furthermore, generational trauma deters African Americans and other populations as the outdoors were a space of oppression,. By looking through a historical lens to break down the barriers marginalized communities face, it is clear to see the factors that enable outdoor spaces to remain predominantly white. However, acknowledging these barriers is not enough and the barriers must be broken down to put an end to the inequity.  

We partnered with Big City Mountaineers to create a resource to start the work of alleviating these barriers. Knowing that most people in privileged positions are unaware of the extent of the barriers to accessing the outdoors and the historical complexities, we decided to create a toolkit that would inform the reader of the basics ranging from the history of the issue to steps to take action. Created for both individuals and organizations, we walk through the educational component of the history and current barriers to outdoor recreation to give them a foundation and the tools to have conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors. Additionally, we provide actionable steps and resources for people in any situation to create changes and take steps to breaking down inequity, not only in the outdoor spaces, but in the greater community as well. Lastly, a crucial part in the process of advocating for others and social justice is self-reflection. In the toolkit, we bookended it with two sections of reflection to initially take stock of one’s role and position in the community and in the end reflect on what they have learned and where in their life they can create meaningful change. This resource will be housed on a website to be an addition to Big City Mountaineer’s existing website. While the website and content has not been finalized, we have handed all of our work to Big City Mountaineers to finalize it and publish the addition to their website when it is complete. The toolkit was based on a project Big City Mountaineers had to put on hold due to the pandemic, that we had picked up to make progress on while they did not have the capacity to build it out at the time.  

The entire process of this project was a step out of our comfort zones and a learning process for our group. The early stages of our project, meeting with stakeholders and community members to research the topic, was beneficial to truly understand where the community was and how we could best support it. In the thick of our project, meeting with Megan Aranow (our Big City Mountaineer contact) to work through the details of the project and create content was eye-opening to see how projects are created outside of the academic space. Creating the content and researching was the most meaningful aspect of the experience as a large portion of it was self-reflection on our own identities and experiences as well as educating ourselves on social justice in the outdoor space. Each of the members in our group come from privileged positions and have always had access to the outdoors, meaning we had to educate ourselves and listen to the voices of those who have faced and experienced these inequities firsthand. We wanted to take on the responsibility of making the outdoors an accessible and inclusive space as we are a part of the problem. We recognize that it is not the responsibility of those who are marginalized to educate us. By learning about inequity not only in the outdoors but in all spaces, we have all learned how we can work to make more inclusive communities and spaces throughout our academic careers and beyond. This project has been impactful beyond the scope of the classroom, demonstrating our role to use our knowledge and position to lift up diverse voices and communities both academically and otherwise. Through working on this toolkit and with Big City Mountaineers, we have learned invaluable lessons in working with a team and utilizing our leadership skills and knowledge to do good and serve others.  

We are beyond grateful to PLP for giving us this opportunity to create change outside the classroom, Big City Mountaineers for working with us and providing guidance and resources throughout the process of building the toolkit, and lastly to DU Grand Challenges and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations for generously supporting the project and our work.  

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