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Anti-racism and the future of the BOC

May 14, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the authors.

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

This week’s column concludes our series and discusses the Anti-Racism in the Outdoors (ARO) training, which was conceptualized, designed and facilitated by BOC leaders Abigail Wu ’21, Ayana Harscoet ’21 and Shona Ortiz ’21. We wanted to conclude with a focus on this training because it has been a critical component of the BOC’s on-going education endeavors and will remain integral in our future efforts toward becoming a more anti-racist organization.

Launched in the summer of 2020, the ARO curriculum covers historical foundations of racial inequity in the United States, race and the outdoors, environmental justice and addressing racism in the context of the BOC. The original structure consisted of two online sessions, each lasting four weeks, with a total of fifty student participants. The summer courses concluded with each group generating recommendations on how to improve the BOC.

Abby, Shona and Ayana developed the idea for ARO last summer in response to Black Lives Matter protests and their own conversations about addressing anti-racism at the BOC. They created the curriculum using material from their classes, Ayana’s independent study and additional research. Since the summer, Abby, Shona and Ayana have adapted ARO into a six-hour intensive training that all participants in the BOC’s Leadership Training program are required to complete. This training is meant to prepare student trip leaders to address scenarios that could occur during a BOC trip or in outdoor spaces more broadly. The BOC has hosted three ARO sessions this semester, training about 40 new trip leaders, in addition to a full-day workshop in March focused on implementing the recommendations from summer ARO sessions. Going forward, these seniors envision ARO as a program run by students for students that evolves to fit the needs and interests of the BOC community.

As first years at Bowdoin, all three of us experienced a BOC culture centered around students with extensive backgrounds in outdoor recreation—often white men from upper-class backgrounds. We felt that parts of the BOC culture and structure were inaccessible and intimidating. Though the organization and community may not have intended to be exclusionary, not enough intention was put into how the culture was created and how the space made people feel, or not feel, comfortable.

Now, four years later, and with women—particularly women of color—leading the charge on many of these initiatives, we see perceptions of the Outing Club beginning to change. Abby shared with us that she has observed that younger students attending ARO are “coming in with such a different energy and understanding of the Outing Club.” We feel that much of this growth over the past year is due to a few factors. The first is the educational efforts initiated and led by Abby, Ayana and Shona. The second is the student involvement in implementing the action steps identified during the summer ARO sessions. Next is a concentrated effort in the past year to reimagine the structures and systems of the BOC and provide greater transparency about those efforts. And, finally, there has been increased involvement by students in implementing their learning in their role as trip leaders in the Outing Club.

We hope this level of student involvement and buy-in will bring lasting change to our organization and its culture. With new generations of students will come new ideas, inspirations and initiatives. Abby told us, “The big accomplishment of ARO is kickstarting this idea that we, as students, can change things.” We agree and look forward to seeing these shifts continue, in the Outing Club and beyond.

Irene Brogdon ’22, Chelsea Whiting Puckett ’22 and Aine Lawlor ’21

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