Diversity & Inclusion in the Outdoors

Words By: Shelma Jun

Photos By: Flash Foxy

As we find ourselves deep into a world pandemic that has made physical gatherings a distant memory that many of long for, the Arc’teryx Climbing Academy looked a little different this year. Though we can’t all be gathering in Downtown Squamish, with beers in hand, to talk about our day out at the crag, the virtual format has its silver linings as well. One of these silver linings was the stellar lineup of panelists for our “When Welcomed is Not Enough: A JEDI Discussion” panel that would be hard to bring all to one place at one time. It also gave us the opportunity to reach so many folks who also would not have been able to attend an in-person discussion.

Sparked by the Dr. Crystal Jones quote, “everyone is welcome is different than this space was created with you specifically in mind.” The panel, which featured Faith Briggs, Grace Anderson, Ashleigh Thompson, Kareemah Batts and Forrest Parks, dug into what the difference is between these two statements and why the former is insufficient to create long-term meaningful change in the Outdoor community. Moderated by Arc’teryx Ambassador Shelma Jun, the two-hour panel included incredible insight into how we might support folks in our community who have traditionally been excluded, how we re-distribute power and how to start dreaming radically.

While this powerful discussion is available as a recording (with closed captioning) here, the following highlights some key points that were brought up by our panelists.

Why being welcome falls short if there are no support networks in place:

Ashleigh: “For me, this happens a lot in outdoor spaces, in my line of work, and in academia. People always want indigenous people to participate. But once they’re there, what kind of support network do they have? So we’ll have Indigenous students come in to colleges and universities as freshmen to try to get these diversity numbers up, but then you’ll see some of the highest dropout rates.. We need to remember that diversity isn’t anti-racist work. So we ask ourselves, what structure is there to support the diversity once we’re there? What kind of access is there? What kind of language is used? And how are you going to support us once we’re at the table?”

The importance of spaces that you can show up as your full self:

Grace: ”I was co leading a 45-day backpacking trip. And there was a black girl on the trip. And first of all, like that just doesn’t happen for me. Like other black folks like as students, of course, it just usually doesn’t happen. And I braided her hair over the campfire one night, and it was just, I mean it was just like such a small thing that made me feel so good. It made me feel like, I’d never had anyone to do that for me when I first got into backpacking, it was like, well, I just should shave my head like I kept my head shaved for a long time because they just didn’t know what to do with it. And being able to experience that with that person was just like, really lovely.

As I’m thinking to the future and what the spaces that I want to be in look like, it’s centered on who I am as a person and not the activity. I used to think that I hated climbing. And then I was like, Oh, I just don’t like climbers. I don’t like these people that I’m climbing with. And when I started to surround myself with people who looked like me, who had similar backgrounds and experiences. I got a lot more into climbing and I think when that is the focus and intention as a healing spaces, a space to see each other, to reflect and to hold space for each other, the activity is a little bit secondary. But those are the spaces that I want to be in, where I can show up as myself first.”

We all have different roles to play in this work. Find who’s already doing the work and find where you fit in.  

Faith: “I think a lot of times we’re like, I have an idea. I’ll start the thing. And a lot of times, [let’s] hold on. What work is [already] being done? You think you know what the need is, but you haven’t talked to people to figure out what the need is so sometimes our ideas of how to help isn’t actually the way that the help is needed. And so, it takes pause, and it takes humility to say, who was already doing this work? And then in terms of investigating your role, maybe you are the leader and you need to bring on a co-lead, or maybe you’re not a leader, and you are a great grant writer. And you can help write a grant because that person has no bandwidth, but you know that what they’re doing is worthwhile. Maybe you have this organizing skill and they want to do thing x. And you can say, oh, what do you need? I got you. Now we’re resourced.

So I think everyone’s like, ‘What do I do? I protest. I post on social media, and I donate.’ But it’s like you have, all of us do,  so many skills and so many roles. I think we really need to look at what are our talents? And how we be most impactful there, right? Because like some people need to post on social media, some people need to donate, some people need to protest but there’s a billion other buckets that are not being filled right now because we’re all trying to fit into these spaces that we think are how we’re supposed to function in the world and in many ways we’re not.”

Remembering that diversity and inclusivity goes beyond race:

Kareemah: “If you are not now, you’d be you will be at some point, be a person with a disability in your life before you die. It’s going to happen. It has already happened, your brother, your sister, your cousin, you. But for some reason, no one seems to remember that we’re part of the diversity conversation. Under people with disabilities, under all those identities [race, queerness, etc] , we’re on the bottom rung. We’re the last people thought of, out of all your cultures that you identify with.

So I’m concentrating on whether or not we all can sleep in the same Airbnb at this climbing festival that we are invited to. It’s literally actual function that I’m thinking of. I have an entire charter bus that we had to pay for because it’s the only vehicle that will hold 2 accessible wheelchair seats because [bus companies] only legally need to have only two. That means they can only and they will only take out eight seats, even though we have the whole bus to myself – just so we can get two wheelchair users in there.”

On radically dreaming about what our goals are as a community:

Forrest: “I want us to dream to that point, and that feels too radical for some folks. They’re like, that’s unrealistic. That is like something we couldn’t do. And I don’t think it is. We’re just afraid of it. We’re afraid if we were the CEO of an org and have to step out, or step aside, right, we’re afraid. “Oh, what happens to this thing?” But that shows a lack of trust in this process [where] you truly have a community that’s taking care of one another.

I know that I can always give almost everything that I have to whoever needs it. when I don’t need it and then when I need something I know that my community is going to get my back and they’ve got me for whatever I need. And it’s not going to be a one for one, and I’m not going to go back to that person that I gave everything to and say I need everything back. But if we can’t get to dreaming to that level. We’re only doing below what we could. And that doesn’t play down the work that we do. There’s a lot of great work happening. There’s a lot of great nonprofits. There’s a lot of things on the ground that can’t get to that level because of all of the systems that we are in currently. But if we can’t even dream up there, I think we’re selling ourselves short.”

One additional aspect of the discussion was an interactive activity board that encouraged all attendees to contribute to the discussion by helping us envision what “Community Transformation” can look like and what “Community Resources” we can build upon. The Community Transformation section asked folks to share what are actions, experiences or environments that:

1) made one feel like the space was exclusive

2) made you feel as though a space was created with you in mind

In the second section, Community Resources, folks shared tips and tools that have worked for them as well as folks and organizations who are already doing the work. Though no more additions can be made to the board, you can check out what folks wrote by clicking here.

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by this work because it is huge and a big takeaways from this panel were:

1) be committed to doing the work and supporting others

2) respect other’s boundaries as they will need to take breaks and find joy during the process

3) find those joy spaces for yourself as well because we need to remember what we are striving for.

A huge thank you to all the panelists for sharing their knowledge, experiences and energy with us. We are looking forward to continuing these conversations at future events as well as through other available avenues.