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The role of student leadership in anti-racism in the outdoors

April 16, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the authors.

This piece is the first in a series written by members of the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) Student Officer Team and individuals within the BOC student leadership to share the work we have been doing to examine racism in outdoor spaces and the role of the BOC in creating more inclusive spaces.

The outdoor recreation community has historically been a racially inequitable and frequently oppressive space for BIPOC communities and other marginalized groups. The people who have had access to outdoor recreation—outdoor spaces, gear, mentorship and skill development—have often benefited from racial and socioeconomic privilege. The BOC is not removed from this history, yet we believe we have the potential to contribute to shifting this narrative and are continuing to look critically at our program and analyze what changes need to be made in order to make the BOC a more accessible, inclusive, diverse, equitable and anti-racist space. One component of these efforts is more transparent and active communication throughout this process, and that is our goal with this series. This first piece tries to contextualize this work within the BOC and discuss changes to our BOC Student Officer Selection process.

Last summer, the Student Officer Team sent out a school-wide survey to gauge the thoughts, opinions and impressions of the BOC held by the wider student body. We also hosted two separate four-week sessions of Anti-Racism in the Outdoors (ARO) training, which were created and facilitated by student leaders Shona Ortiz ’21, Abby Wu ’21 and Ayana Harscoet ’21. Using  feedback from the aforementioned survey as well as the reports and recommendations generated by ARO participants, we identified a number of changes necessary to support the evolution of the organization.

One of those suggestions was changing how we select the Student Officer Team. Student officers play a significant role, both in the day-to-day functioning of the organization and in creating the culture of the BOC community. In the past, student officers were elected through popular vote via a survey sent out to BOC members. We believe this process often upheld systems of seniority and privilege. Because our student leadership has immense influence on the BOC program, and the BOC is intended to serve the whole Bowdoin community, we know that our Student Officer Team needs to be more representative of the Bowdoin student body to make the BOC as inclusive and accessible as possible.

We believe that the most important qualities for potential BOC student officers are passion for facilitating all kinds of outdoor experiences for others and a commitment to contributing to the evolution of the organization. We do not think BOC officers need to have extensively engaged with the BOC or outdoor recreation in the past—rather, we hope to have a team of student officers from different class years, with varied outdoor backgrounds and different skills and perspectives, to lead our organization.

The new selection process consists of a written application, a committee interview and a campus-wide student survey. We believe it is important to bring different voices and perspectives into this process, so our selection committee includes up to eight students and staff members who have varying roles on campus and connections to the BOC. Similarly, the goal of the campus-wide survey is to provide opportunities for student preference to be shared, recognizing again that, because the BOC is a resource for the entire campus body, it is important for everyone’s voice to be heard.

BOC Student Officer applications for the 2021-22 academic year are currently open. The application is due on Sunday, April 18—more information and details about the process can be found on the BOC CampusGroups page, including a link to the application.

Beyond changing the officer selection process, we are committed to soliciting feedback, reevaluating systems and applying what we learn from the campus community to further improve our organization. We will continue to communicate changes being implemented at the BOC through this series, and we look forward to working together to make the BOC a more inclusive and accessible resource for everyone. If you want to be involved in making changes, have feedback to offer or have questions about our efforts, please contact any of the student officers or staff of the BOC.

Aine Lawlor ’21, Chelsea Whiting Puckett ’22, Anneka Williams ’21 and the BOC Student Officer Team

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