#DifficultTerrain: Bringing Equity and Inclusion into the Sunlight

Bringing Equity & Inclusion into the Sunlight

It’s finally June – the official beginning of summer. It’s the month of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and a time to celebrate and honor our connection to the sun and to the earth.

For many children, it’s a time to reconnect with the outdoors. School is out and summer has begun. It’s a time to run and play outside in the sun, jumping in creeks, turning over rocks, climbing trees, and breathing in fresh air.  

Being outside in nature can have a major impact on a young person’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Unfortunately, those kinds of meaningful outdoor experiences are not a reality for many children. Research shows that 70 percent of all outdoor recreation participants are white.

We know that there are real barriers that prevent many kids who have been traditionally or historically underrepresented in the outdoor movement from participating in outdoor programs or camps. From lack of physical proximity to transportation challenges, it can be difficult for them to connect with nature. Or they might not have the necessary gear and equipment to go backpacking and camping.

But more importantly, they may not feel welcome or included in the outdoors. They don’t see their identities reflected in the people who work in the outdoor recreation and environmental fields and they don’t see their culture and their histories represented in those outdoor spaces.

Tackling issues of inclusion and equity requires recognizing and removing the systemic barriers that keep these kids from connecting with nature. These barriers are grounded in dominant culture, institutions, and power dynamics. We can only drive change by taking a hard look at the beliefs, values, practices, attitudes, and behaviors that exist today and challenging the status quo.

As part of that process, we need to embrace the need for cultural relevancy which for us means effectively reaching and engaging communities and their youth in a manner that is consistent with the cultural context and values of that community; while effectively addressing the disparities of equity and inclusion within an organization’s entire structure.

The summer solstice – and its focus on our connection with the sun and the earth – is an opportune time to have conversations around the need for equity and inclusion in the outdoor recreation and environmental fields.

It feels like the right time to launch our new blog, #DifficultTerrain.

Our goal for this blog is to create a path for having these discussions and asking these questions. We can look under rocks along the trail and bring tough issues surrounding equity and inclusion into the sunlight. We can breathe some fresh air into the on-going conversations about how to incorporate cultural relevancy into the outdoor and environmental fields. It won’t be an easy hike. The path may head uphill and have unexpected curves. We will all have to leave our comfort zones along the way.

But if, by the end of the journey, we have created the kind of change that will support youth who are underrepresented in the outdoors connect with such an opportunity in culturally relevant and inclusive ways, it will have been worth it.

I hope you will join us on this path.

ABOUT #DifficultTerrain

At Youth Outside, we believe that meaningful outdoor experiences can have a major impact on young people’s lives. We work to ensure that youth who are underrepresented in the outdoors have the opportunity to connect with the outdoors in culturally relevant and inclusive ways by removing systemic barriers connected to dominant culture, institutions, and power dynamics. Our monthly blog, #DifficultTerrain, asks the hard questions and sparks the difficult conversations needed to drive change across the broader outdoor and environmental fields.