October 3, 2020

Welcoming Diversity in Wilderness Settings

If you’ve heard about the devastating pandemic hitting our country this year, then you’re also familiar with the uncovering of racial tensions related to police brutality and systemic oppression. Congratulations, you’re not living under a rock. That said, maybe living under a rock these days is the safest disposition – both physically as well as mentally. Of course, that’s no way to live, and facing challenges head on both personally and collectively is the only way things get better. This is why I want to take a few minutes to discuss how diversity affects our passion – the wilderness.

I’m certain we can all come to an agreement that the outdoors is not a place one typically finds a diverse array of participants. Rather, the white, heterosexual, cis-male is disproportionally represented in outdoor activities. There is a myriad of reasons for this. Dr. Unia eloquently discusses some of these reasons here. I encourage you to read more about her thoughts as a female physician of color who enjoys the outdoors.

While my outward appearance matches a prototypical outdoor sports enthusiast’s, Dr. Unia’s words resonate with me. I was a trip leader for a progressive wilderness organization in my 20s and likely was selected because I added diversity to the team. Although athletic, I was new to camping and didn’t possess many of the outdoor skills most of my colleagues did. As the only gay member of the team, I felt like an outsider many times. However, it was those that welcomed me with open arms and encouraged me to try new things that made the outdoors eventually feel like a second home. I think we all have been in this situation – when just one outstretched hand can make all the difference.

I share these thoughts because it is imperative that we examine all facets of inequality. Tackling issues like improving access and understanding the cultural reasons behind these inequalities are incredibly important, but I believe the first step is to acknowledge the problem. I do not pretend to be an expert in the area of Diversity and Inclusion, but I do know that I have a voice. I encourage you all to use your voices to call attention to this matter. It is from this awareness that we can improve. Progress is that out-stretched, welcoming hand for those who may not know how to navigate the outdoors like yourself. It’s making the outdoors welcoming to all, no matter what your background happens to be.

Dave Young, MD