Making Outdoor Education More Accessible

Making Outdoor Education More Accessible

Effective Practices
For Night Hike

By: Grace Werner

The mainstream outdoor industry, as it exists today, is a blanket of whiteness that ignores sacred stories, crucial histories, and traditional knowledge of black and brown people (Brown, 2019). This truth is something I was only partially aware of in my time as an Instructor at Widjiwagan. If there is anything my graduate studies in the field of education have taught me, it is clarity around the many mistakes I have made as an educator. Still, reflection, correction, and reparation is the only way I know to move forward, and thus I’m so excited to analyze the mistakes I made as an instructor and as an employee of an outdoor education organization.

The focus of my “Effective Practices” analysis is on a lack of awareness regarding emotional safety of all students, and particularly black and brown students, on a night hike. In this blog post, I will identify elements of the night hike lesson that could be changed for a more emotionally safe experience for students. Specifically, I will look at the timing of the lesson positioned early in the week/unit, the set-up of community standards/emotional-safety- agreements, and the (lack of) awareness or acknowledgement the instructor is able to bring into their teaching and work community. By analyzing what a night hike looked like as I taught it 3 years ago, I am hoping I can clarify specific changes that may make the overall experience more beneficial for all students.

Positionality:

            I believe that when educators are aware of their positionality, greater safety is maintained. As a white, cis-gender, non-disabled, middle class woman who speaks English as her first language; my positionality holds immense privilege. Specifically as a white outdoor educator, if I do not acknowledge and actively combat the harmful practices ingrained in environmental education, I am not only a part of a history of erasure but also a participant in the perpetuation of racism and injustice. My critical analysis of the night hike is a limited understanding of the industry’s shortcomings, due to my privileged positionality and inherent biases. It is my intention to use this reflection to process my own learning and recognize the changes I hope YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, as well as many organizations like Widji, must make.

Widji’s administration, board of advisors, staff, and summer-participants are predominately white, upper-middle class, non-disabled, and speak English as their first language. From my perspective and collective experiences in the participant, guide, and instructor roles; there is not nearly enough organizational effort given to interrupt or change this cycle of creating a white-centric space. This is extremely important to recognize because of the following participant caveat- Widji’s fall/winter/spring program serves a population of youth who’s demographics much more accurately represent the demographics of MN and much more proportionally include (but are not limited to)- African American, Mexican, Native American, Somali, Ethiopian, Hmong, Salvadoran, Indian, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese, students. This detail is important to acknowledge moving forward in my analysis of the “Night Hike” lesson. Schools (both public & private) from across the state of MN, bring entire classes of students to outdoor school at Widji for a week-long sleep away experience. But how is Widji (or the many outdoor ed schools like Widji) able to create a space that mitigates the undertones of colonization, nationalism, and white supremacy culture imbedded and maintained through the industry, organization, and a predominately white as well as affluent staff (Brown, 2019).

Lesson Analysis & Effective Practices:

One of the more important elements to know about Night Hike at Widjiwagan is that it happens on the first night students arrive at camp. Generally, after a long day of travel, busses arrive in Ely, MN around 3-4pm. Students tour camp, unpack quickly in their cabins, eat dinner, and meet their study-groups as well as their instructor. These groups will stay the same for the entire week. Day 1, for students and instructors alike, is exhausting and overwhelming. It is a day filled with nervousness, discomfort, excitement, and newness. This is the night students are asked to bundle up, dig deep for some energy, and place an unreasonable amount of trust in their instructors and peers to brave the dark, cold for a hike in the woods.

Most commonly students will be presented with pre-hike curriculum. As an instructor, I often outlined the anatomy of the human-eye and how it interacts with light. I would draw a diagram on the white board and have students label the cornea, pupil, iris, rods, cones, and a chemical called rhodopsin. We would experiment with our own vision-quality by turning off the lights in the classroom and waiting for our eyes to adjust. I would then ask students to extinguish all phones, flashlights, or head-lamps for the entire walk, as a way to test our own night vision. Looking back, this measure feels entirely unnecessary and insensitive. The point (I think) was to encourage students to step briefly outside their comfort zone in order to practice their recently acquired knowledge of night vision. The night hike generally proceeded into discussions on stars, light-pollution, nocturnal animals, and sometimes even active-listening activities. There is so much incredible science-related and non-science-related content that is relevant to a night hike, and yet I can’t let go of the fact that it is placing students in what could be an incredibly scary, triggering, and uncomfortable situation on their first night at camp. Finally, if students are deeply uncomfortable, they will not be in a mental space that allows learning to take place.

Moving the night hike to the final evening at Widji is a practice that I think could significantly improve student-emotional-safety. When someone feels emotionally safe, I believe they feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable and voice their needs. This requires trust and respect in relationships. A closing night hike would allow students the necessary time to build trust and supportive relationships with potentially unfamiliar peers and a new instructor. It would also allow time for establishing, as well as practicing, community safety standards, communication skills, and group agreements. Added time to learn about students- their individual needs and passions as well as group needs and interests- is crucial to a successful week at outdoor camp. Assuming youth will or should be stoked on being outside is rooted in many characteristics of white supremacy. Individuals have varying and sometimes emotionally-loaded feelings of spending time outside. It can bring up memories of vulnerability, insecurity, fear, or even pain. The outdoors is not a safe place for everyone. More specifically, the outdoors has been historically dominated by white men and their exclusive ideas of recreation and stewardship. In my opinion, acknowledgment of the night hike or any other camp experience as potentially scary is a great place to start in naming a dynamic for students. This acknowledgment lets students know that feelings or desires in regards to participation may vary from student to student, and that is ok. I firmly believe that students should not be forced to venture into the darkness without a light, or even to hike at all in the dark if they do not feel safe. Ideally, if presented as an option at the beginning of the week, and slowly worked towards as a team, students may genuinely not want to miss the experience.

The second important teaching practice I believe relevant to night hike is the knowledge that a student’s comfort level is often rooted in their family’s history or upbringing. In “What Does Culture Have To Do With Teaching Science”, Madden (2013) writes, “For educators to engage families, becoming aware of student prior knowledge and beliefs is essential in making science culturally responsive” (p.67). It is the job of instructors to learn about the communities where they work and implement the many incredible narratives and ways of learning present there. Specifically, as a white outdoor educator, making space for adults whose positionality not only differs from my own, but also may better represent student identity, is crucial. In my time instructing at Widji’s fall/winter/spring program, I largely relied on the standard curriculum presented to me in staff training. Still, there was a lot of flexibility given to instructors at Widji, and I wish I would have used that freedom to make space for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) voices. Madden (2013) discusses gathering stories from parents, community specialists, or even the library as an excellent option for instructors to include a variety of voices, perspectives, and cultural beliefs that may be held by students. For night hike specifically, this could include family or traditional knowledge on any of the topics typically covered such as stars, nocturnal adaptations, light pollution, etc. Another option Madden (2013) presents , if the resources are available, is to invite parents, teachers, or community members into the curriculum building as another way to stray from content reflecting a single story. This could happen through electronic data collection, zoom sharing, or in-person visits.

In outdoor education, the space my body takes up is welcomed and approved by white supremacy, so I must use that privilege to dismantle a system that is centered around whiteness. Night hike at Widjiwagan displays the extensive redesign outdoor curriculum and educational systems must incorporate, rather than relying on assumptions, stereotypes, typical curriculum, and more.

Work Cited:

Brown, S., & *, N. (n.d.). Advice for white environmentalists and nature educators. Retrieved March 09, 2021, from https://clearingmagazine.org/archives/15272
Brown, S., & *, N. (n.d.). Reclaiming spaces. Retrieved March 09, 2021, from https://clearingmagazine.org/archives/15269
Madden, L., & Joshi, A. (2013). What does culture have to do with teaching science? Science and Children, 051(01). doi:10.2505/4/sc13_051_01_66

Land Acknowledgement Resource Cards

Land Acknowledgement Resource Cards


A New Tool: Land Acknowledgment Resource Cards (LARC)

by Grace Crowley-Thomas

Throughout Canada, New Zealand, and parts of the United States, educators and leaders are engaging in a practice called “land acknowledgment.” Generally, this is a practice that is meant to recognize and pay respects to the Indigenous people first who inhabited and stewarded the currently occupied land. As we know, Indigenous people have lived, and continue to live, in just about every part of the world. The goal of these cards is to help educators introduce and grow an understanding around land acknowledgments.

It is vital that educators recognize this as a starting point and that to pay true respect, action needs to accompany acknowledgement. These “each-one-teach-one” style cards can be used in a variety of ways and this article provides a few suggestions around how an educator might engage with them with learners. These cards are not necessarily intended to be used all together, rather as a resource for the educator to pick and choose what cards are most appropriate for their group. Some of the cards are more appropriate for certain maturity levels than others. While these cards are a resource, it is the responsibility of the educator to learn about the issues of the local tribe and build relationships. Acknowledgement alone is not enough, there must also be action. Without action, we are just being performative and tokenizing of Indigenous peoples and cultures. In what ways are we simultaneously decolonizing our practice? Our minds? Educators should use these cards as a jumping off point to dive further into Indigenous ways of knowing and being and issues that local nations are dealing with.

Possibilities for use:

  • Learn more about Indigenous sovereignty
  • Learn more about Indigenous treaty rights
  • Use images to introduce Vi Hilbert, political cartoons, youth activism, Indigenous art
  • Write the name of the original inhabitants of the land you are on
  • Open discussion

Opportunities for Use

  • Pass them out to students and have each person share something from their card. Prompts may include:
    • Why are land acknowledgments important?
    • What is something new you learned?
    • Can you create your own land acknowledgment?
    • If we were to create our own land acknowledgment, what would be important for us to consider?
  • Choose specific cards that center the information you want to teach and present them to the group
    • Pictures of Vi Hilbert
      • Could be used in conjunction with a Suquamish basket lesson
      • Discussion of Lushootseed language and dictionary. How does language live and die?
    • Political cartoons
      • Discuss what the artist is conveying
      • Ask learners to make their own political cartoon
        • Environmental issues
        • Justice Issues
        • Youth Issues
      • Treaties and sovereignty
      • Land acknowledgment examples
        • What is a land acknowledgement?
          • What are common components?
          • What are some differences?
        • Why is it important?
      • Use the cards as each one teach one cards
      • Create your own land acknowledgement with students
      • Have students look at the artwork and form a discussion around them
        • What patterns do you see?
        • What shapes do you see?
        • What do you think the artist is trying to tell us?
      • Use the artwork and native land maps to have your students investigate and write the name of the ancestral lands you are on. Refer to this daily.
      • Write the name of the tribes whose land you are on on the provided artwork
        • Why would the artists make this work?
        • Youth made this artwork
          • ask about artwork that has a purpose
          • Ask learners if they have ever made art with a message
            • What was that message?
            • Did they show anyone?
            • How was it received?
          • Share stories of youth activists of color
            • Meet the young activists of color who are leading the charge against climate disaster (words and profiles below are directly from Burton, N. (2019, October 11). Meet the young activists of color who are leading the charge against climate disaster. Vox. https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/10/11/20904791/young-climate-activists-of-color.)
              • Jamie Margolin, 17, is a first-generation daughter of a Colombian immigrant and the co-founder of the climate action organization Zero Hour. As a queer, Jewish, Latina climate activist, Margolin is committed to advocating for the most vulnerable communities. When you uplift Latinx voices in the climate movement, she says, you must also fight for Indigenous rights, including the biodiversity that those communities protect.
              • Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, 12, became an activist on behalf of her hometown of Flint, Michigan, when she wrote then-President Barack Obama in 2016, asking him to do something about the water crisis. In Flint, mismanagement led to high levels of lead in the water. State officials estimate that almost 9,000 children in Flint under the age of 6 were exposed to high levels of lead. These children, including Copeny, are at risk of developing serious, long-term developmental and health problems as a result. “Flint is not unique,” Copeny tells Vox. “There are dozens of Flints across the country. Cases of environmental racism are on the rise and disproportionately affect communities of people of color and indigenous communities.” Flint is nearly 54 percent Black, with more than 41 percent of its residents living below the poverty level,
              • Xiye Bastida, 17, was born and raised in San Pedro Tultepec, a town outside of Mexico City, where heavy rainfall and flooding were the norm. It gave her insight into how Indigenous communities are impacted by rising temperatures and environmental degradation. Bastida, who’s Otomi-Toltec from Mexico and now based in New York, says she brings “Indigenous knowledge and cosmology” to the conversation in the climate movement. “We don’t call water a resource; we call it a sacred element,” she says. “The relationship we have with everything that Earth offers, it’s about reciprocity. That’s the only way we are going to learn how to shift our culture from an extraction culture to a balanced and harmonious culture with the land.” Bastida skips school every Friday to protest at the United Nations as part of the Fridays for Future initiative founded by Thunberg. Bastida says it’s vitally necessary to keep Indigenous people at the forefront of the climate conversation.
              • Ilsa Hirsi, 16, The daughter of a Somali-American refugee, Hirsi feels strongly about making room for more Muslim and Black youth to be leaders in the climate movement. “Creating more space for those with marginalized identities in the climate space is necessary for inclusive solutions,” she tells Vox. “Everyone should be able to see themselves in a movement like this, and if you don’t, then that’s reason to make this space more inclusive.” Hirsi also recently told Essence that the climate movement can’t afford to ignore the impact capitalism, white supremacy, and colonialism have had on the climate. “The climate crisis is such a massive issue that everything is impacted by it … everything is intertwined in some way,” Hirsi said. She points to Indigenous-led protests against the Minnesota oil pipeline, Line 3, where the struggle against colonialism and the denigration of Native people can’t be separated from the pressing environmental issues.

 

Sources

#HonorNativeLand. U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. (2018). https://usdac.us/nativeland.

Burton, N. (2019, October 11). Meet the young activists of color who are leading the charge against climate disaster. Vox. https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/10/11/20904791/young-climate-activists-of-color

Friedler, D. (2018, February 9). If You’re Not Indigenous, You Live on Stolen Land. Teen Vogue. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/indigenous-land-acknowledgement-explained.

Land Acknowledgement. Duwamish Tribe. (2018). https://www.duwamishtribe.org/land-acknowledgement.

 

Grace is a current Master of Education candidate at University of Washington’s partnership with IslandWood’s Education for Environment and Community Certification Program on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Advice for White Environmentalists and Nature Educators

Advice for White Environmentalists and Nature Educators

by Sprinavasa Brown

I often hear White educators ask “What should I do?” expressing an earnest desire to move beyond talking about equity and inclusion to wanting action steps toward meaningful change.

I will offer you my advice as a fellow educator. It is both a command and a powerful tool for individual and organizational change for those willing to shift their mindset to understand it, invest the time to practice it and hold fast to witness its potential.

The work of this moment is all about environmental justice centered in social justice, led by the communities most impacted by the outcomes of our collective action. It’s time to leverage your platform as a White person to make space for the voice of a person of color. It’s time to connect your resources and wealth to leaders from underrepresented communities so they can make decisions that place their community’s needs first.

If you have participated in any diversity trainings, you are likely familiar with the common process of establishing group agreements. Early on, set the foundation for how you engage colleagues, a circumspect reminder that meaningful interpersonal and intrapersonal discourse has protocols in order to be effective. I appreciate these agreements and the principles they represent because they remind us that this work is not easy. If you are doing it right, you will and should be uncomfortable, challenged and ready to work toward a transformational process that ends in visible change.

I want you to recall one such agreement: step up, step back, step aside.

That last part is where I want to focus. It’s a radical call to action: Step aside! There are leaders of color full of potential and solutions who no doubt hold crucial advice and wisdom that organizations are missing. Think about the ways you can step back and step aside to share power. Step back from a decision, step down from a position or simply step aside. If you currently work for or serve on the board of an organization whose primary stakeholders are from communities of color, then this advice is especially for you.
Stepping aside draws to attention arguably the most important and effective way White people can advance racial equity, especially when working in institutions that serve marginalized communities. To leverage your privilege for marginalized communities means removing yourself from your position and making space for Black and Brown leaders to leave the margins and be brought into the fold of power.

You may find yourself with the opportunity to retire or take another job. Before you depart, commit to making strides to position your organization to hire a person of color to fill the vacancy. Be outspoken, agitate and question the status quo. This requires advocating for equitable hiring policies, addressing bias in the interview process and diversifying the pool with applicants with transferable skills. Recruit applicants from a pipeline supported and led by culturally specific organizations with ties to the communities you want to attract, and perhaps invite those community members to serve on interview panels with direct access to hiring managers.

As an organizational leader responsible for decisions related to hiring, partnerships and board recruitment, I have made uncomfortable, hard choices in the name of racial equity, but these choices yield fruitful outcomes for leaders willing to stay the course. I’ve found myself at crossroads where the best course forward wasn’t always clear. This I have come to accept is part of my equity journey. Be encouraged: Effective change can be made through staying engaged in your personal equity journey. Across our region we have much work ahead at the institutional level, and even more courage is required for hard work at the interpersonal level.

In stepping aside you create an opportunity for a member of a marginalized community who may be your colleague, fellow board member or staff member to access power that you have held.

White people alone will not provide all of the solutions to fix institutional systems of oppression and to shift organizational culture from exclusion to inclusion. These solutions must come from those whose voices have not been heard. Your participation is integral to evolving systems and organizations and carrying out change, but your leadership as a White person in the change process is not.

The best investment we can make for marginalized communities is to actively create and hold space for leaders of color at every level from executives to interns. Invest time and energy into continuous self-reflection and selfevaluation. This is not the path for everyone, but I hope you can see that there are a variety of actions that can shift the paradigm of the environmental movement. If you find yourself unsure of what action steps best align with where you or your organization are at on your equity journey, then reach out to organizations led by people of color, consultants, and leaders and hire them for their leadership and expertise. By placing yourself in the passenger seat, with a person of color as the driver, you can identify areas to leverage your privilege to benefit marginalized communities.

Finally, share an act of gratitude. Be cognizant of opportunities to step back and step aside and actively pursue ways to listen, understand and practice empathy with your colleagues, community members, neighbors and friends.

Camp ELSO is an example of the outcomes of this advice. Our achievements are most notable because it is within the context of an organization led 100 percent by people of color from our Board of Directors to our seasonal staff. This in the context of a city and state with a history of racial oppression and in a field that is historically exclusively White.

We began as a community-supported project and are growing into a thriving community-based organization successfully providing a vital service for Black and Brown youths across the Portland metro area. The support we have received has crossed cultures, bridged the racial divide and united partners around our vision. It is built from the financial investments of allies – public agencies, foundations, corporations and individuals. I see this as an act of solidarity with our work and our mission, and more importantly, an act of solidarity and support for our unwavering commitment to racial equity.

Sprinavasa Brown is the co-founder and executive director of Camp ELSO. She also serves on Metro’s Public Engagement Review Committee and the Parks and Nature Equity Advisory Committee.

 

 

 

Reclaiming Spaces

Reclaiming Spaces

Providing opportunities for students of color to explore
the outdoors and science careers

 

Text and photos by Sprinavasa Brown

 recall the high school science teacher who doubted my capacity to succeed in advanced biology, the pre-med advisers who pointed my friend Dr. Kellianne Richardson and me away from their program and discouraged us from considering a career in medicine – biased advice given under the guise of truth and tough love.

I remember only three classes with professors of color in my four years at college, only one of whom was a woman. We needed to see her, to hold faith that as women of color, we were good enough, we were smart enough to be there. We were simply enough, and we had so much to contribute to medicine, eager to learn, to improve and to struggle alongside our mostly White peers at our private liberal arts college.

These are the experiences that led Kellianne and me to see the need for more spaces set aside for future Black scientists, for multi-hued Brown future environmentalists.
The story of Camp ELSO (Experience Life Science Outdoors) started with our vision. We want Black and Brown children to access more and better experiences than we did, experiences that help them see their potential in science, that prepare them for the potentially steep learning curve that comes with declaring a science major. We want Black and Brown kids to feel comfortable in a lab room, navigating a science library, and advocating for themselves with faculty and advisers. We hope to inspire their academic pursuits by laying the foundation with curiosity and critical thinking.

Creating a sense of belonging
Camp ELSO’s Wayfinders program is our main program for youths in kindergarten through sixth grade. What began as a programmatic response to our community needs assessment – filling the visible gap in accessible, affordable, experiential science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs for young Black and Brown children – quickly grew into a refuge space for youth of greater Portland. Wayfinders is all about creating a safe uplifting and affirming space for youth to engage in learning around four key areas: life science, ecology, community and cultural history. While our week-long sessions include field trip sites similar to many mainstream environmental education programs, our approach is sharply focused on grounding the youth experience in environmental justice while elevating the visibility and leadership opportunities for folks of color.

We are creating a special place for Black and Brown youth to have transformative experiences, to create memories that we hope will stick with them until adulthood. Creating such a space comes with difficulties, the type of challenges that force our leadership to make tough decisions that we believe will yield the best outcomes for youth underrepresented in STEM fields. For instance, how to mitigate the undertones of colonization, nationalism, and co-opting of traditional knowledge – harmful practices ingrained in mainstream environmental education.
To do so, we invest in training young adults of color to lead as camp guides. We provide resources to support them in developing the skills necessary to engage youth of diverse ethnicities, backgrounds, socioeconomic status and family structure. Our guides practice taking topics and developing discussion questions and lesson plans that are relevant and engaging. We know that the more our staff represents the communities we serve, the closer we get to ensuring that Camp ELSO programming is responsive to the needs of children of color, authentic to their lived experience, and is a reflection of the values of our organization and community.

In 2019 nearly 100 children of color from greater Portland will participate in Camp ELSO’s Wayfinders program over spring and summer break, spending over 40 hours in a week-long day camp engaging in environmental STEM learning and enjoying the outdoors. We reach more children and families through our community outreach events like “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day: Women of Color Panel” and “Endangered Species Day: Introduction to Youth Activism.”
The most critical aspects of our Wayfinders program happens even before we welcome a single child through our doors.  With the intent of purifying the air and spirit, we smudge with cedar and sage to prepare the space. When a child shows up, they are greeted by name. We set the tone for the day with yoga and affirmations to the sounds of Stevie Wonder and Yemi Alade as we strive to expose our kids to global music from diverse cultures.

We have taken the time to ask parents thoughtful questions in the application process to help us prepare to welcome their child to our community. We have painstakingly selected what we feel is a balanced, blended group of eager young minds from diverse ethnic backgrounds: Black, Latinx, the children of immigrants, multi and biracial children of various ethnicities, fuego and magic. Our children come from neighborhoods across Portland and its many suburbs. They come from foster care, single-parent households, affluent homes, homes where they are adopted into loving and beautifully blended families, strong and proud Black families, and intergenerational households with active grandmas and aunties. Consistent with every child and every household is an interest and curiosity around STEM, a love of nature and the outdoors.

The children arrive full of potential and the vitality of youth. Some are shy, and nerves are visible each morning. By the end of the week we’ve built trust and rapport with each of them, we’ve sat in countless circles teaching them our values based in Afrocentric principles, values selected by previous camp guides representing the youth voice that actively shapes the camp’s culture.

On our way to more distant Metro sites like Blue Lake and Oxbow regional parks and Quamash Prairie, we play DJ in the van. Each kid who wants to has an opportunity to share their favorite song with the group, and if you know the words, you’d better belt it out. We share food and pass around snacks while some children rest and others catch up with old friends. Many more are deep in conversation forging new friendships.

When we arrive, we remind the kids of what is expected of them. We have no doubts that each and every child will respect the land and respect our leaders. The boundaries are clear, and our expectations for them don’t change when problems arise. We hold them to the highest standards, regardless of their life situation. We respect, listen, and embrace who they are.

We are often greeted by Alice Froehlich, a Metro naturalist. Our kids know Alice, and the mutual trust, respect and accountability we have shared over the last three years has been the foundation to create field trips that cater to the needs of our blended group – and oh, it is a beautiful group.

At Oxbow, we are also greeted by teen leaders from the Oregon Zoo’s ZAP (Zoo Animal Presenters) program. These teens of color join us each year for what always ends up being a highlight of the week: playing in the frigid waters of the Sandy River, our brown skin baking under the hot summer sun, music in the background and so much laughter. Like family, we enjoy one another’s company.

Then we break into smaller groups and head into the ancient forest. Almost immediately the calm of the forest envelopes our youth. The serenity that draws us to nature turns our group of active bodies into quieted beings content to listen, observe, respond and reflect. It doesn’t take much for them to find their rhythm and adjust to nature’s pace. Similarly, when we kayak the Tualatin River or canoe the Columbia Slough, they are keen to show their knowledge of local plants and taking notice as the occasional bird comes into view. We learn as much from them as we do from our guides.

These are the moments that allow Camp ELSO’s participants to feel welcome, not just to fit in but to belong. To feel deeply connected to the earth, to nature and to community.
Encouragement for my community

As a Black environmental educator I’m always navigating two frames of view. One is grounded in my Americanness, the other is grounded in my Blackness, the lineage of my people from where I pull my strength and affirm my birthright. I wear my identities with pride, however difficult it can be to navigate this world as a part of two communities, two identities. One part of me is constantly under attack from the other that is rife with nationalism, anti-Brownness, and opposition toward the people upon whose lives and ancestry this country was built.
I am a descendant of African people and the motherland. I’m deeply connected to the earth as a descendant of strong, free, resilient and resourceful Black people. The land is a part of me, part of who I am. My ancestors toiled, and they survived, they lived off, they cultivated, and they loved the land.

As a black woman, my relationship with the land and its bounty is a part of my heritage. It’s in my backyard garden, where I grow greens from my great-grandmother’s seeds passed down to me from my mother, who taught me how to save, store and harvest them. Greens from the motherland I was taught to cook by my Sierra Leonean, Rwandese and Jamaican family – aunties and uncles I’ve known as my kin since I was a child. It’s in the birds that roam my backyard, short bursts and squawks as my children chase them. The land is in the final jar my mother canned last summer when the harvest was good, and she had more tomatoes than we could eat after sharing with her church, neighbors and family.

Our connection to the land was lost through colonization, through the blanket of whiteness that a culture and set of values instilled upon us all as westerners living on stolen Indigenous land and working in systems influenced by one dominant culture. Our sacred connection with outdoor spaces was lost as laws set aside the “great outdoors” as if it were for White men only. These laws pushed us from our heritage and erased the stories of our forefathers, forgetting that the Buffalo Soldiers were some of the first park rangers, that the movement for justice was first fought by Black and Brown folks.

We grew our own food before our land was stripped away. We lived in harmony with the natural world before our communities were destroyed, displaced or forcibly relocated. We were healthy and thriving when we ate the food of our ancestors, before it was co-opted and appropriated. We must remember and reclaim this relationship for ourselves and for our children.

We are trying to do this with Camp ELSO, starting with our next generation. Children have the capacity to bring so much to environmental professions that desperately need Black and Brown representation. These professions need the ideas, innovations and solutions that can only come from the lived experiences of people of color. Children of color can solve problems that require Indigenous knowledge, cultural knowledge and knowledge of the African Diaspora. We want to give kids learning experiences that are relevant in today’s context, as more people become aware of racial equity and as the mainstream environmental movement starts to recognize historical oppression of people of color.

We need more spaces for Black and Brown children to see STEM professionals who are relatable through shared experiences, ethnicity, culture and history. We need spaces that allow Black children to experience the outdoors in a majority setting with limited influence of Whiteness – not White people but Whiteness – the dominant culture and norms that influence almost every aspect of our lives.

Camp ELSO is working to be that space. We aren’t there yet. We are on our own learning journey, and it comes with constant challenges and a need to continuously question, heal, build and fortify our own space.

Sprinavasa Brown is the co-founder and executive director of Camp ELSO. She also serves on Metro’s Public Engagement Review Committee and the Parks and Nature Equity Advisory Committee.

 

 

Advice for White Environmentalists and Nature Educators

by Sprinavasa Brown

I often hear White educators ask “What should I do?” expressing an earnest desire to move beyond talking about equity and inclusion to wanting action steps toward meaningful change.
I will offer you my advice as a fellow educator. It is both a command and a powerful tool for individual and organizational change for those willing to shift their mindset to understand it, invest the time to practice it and hold fast to witness its potential.

The work of this moment is all about environmental justice centered in social justice, led by the communities most impacted by the outcomes of our collective action. It’s time to leverage your platform as a White person to make space for the voice of a person of color. It’s time to connect your resources and wealth to leaders from underrepresented communities so they can make decisions that place their community’s needs first.

If you have participated in any diversity trainings, you are likely familiar with the common process of establishing group agreements. Early on, set the foundation for how you engage colleagues, a circumspect reminder that meaningful interpersonal and intrapersonal discourse has protocols in order to be effective. I appreciate these agreements and the principles they represent because they remind us that this work is not easy. If you are doing it right, you will and should be uncomfortable, challenged and ready to work toward a transformational process that ends in visible change.

I want you to recall one such agreement: step up, step back, step aside.

That last part is where I want to focus. It’s a radical call to action: Step aside! There are leaders of color full of potential and solutions who no doubt hold crucial advice and wisdom that organizations are missing. Think about the ways you can step back and step aside to share power. Step back from a decision, step down from a position or simply step aside. If you currently work for or serve on the board of an organization whose primary stakeholders are from communities of color, then this advice is especially for you.
Stepping aside draws to attention arguably the most important and effective way White people can advance racial equity, especially when working in institutions that serve marginalized communities. To leverage your privilege for marginalized communities means removing yourself from your position and making space for Black and Brown leaders to leave the margins and be brought into the fold of power.

You may find yourself with the opportunity to retire or take another job. Before you depart, commit to making strides to position your organization to hire a person of color to fill the vacancy. Be outspoken, agitate and question the status quo. This requires advocating for equitable hiring policies, addressing bias in the interview process and diversifying the pool with applicants with transferable skills. Recruit applicants from a pipeline supported and led by culturally specific organizations with ties to the communities you want to attract, and perhaps invite those community members to serve on interview panels with direct access to hiring managers.

As an organizational leader responsible for decisions related to hiring, partnerships and board recruitment, I have made uncomfortable, hard choices in the name of racial equity, but these choices yield fruitful outcomes for leaders willing to stay the course. I’ve found myself at crossroads where the best course forward wasn’t always clear. This I have come to accept is part of my equity journey. Be encouraged: Effective change can be made through staying engaged in your personal equity journey. Across our region we have much work ahead at the institutional level, and even more courage is required for hard work at the interpersonal level.

In stepping aside you create an opportunity for a member of a marginalized community who may be your colleague, fellow board member or staff member to access power that you have held.

White people alone will not provide all of the solutions to fix institutional systems of oppression and to shift organizational culture from exclusion to inclusion. These solutions must come from those whose voices have not been heard. Your participation is integral to evolving systems and organizations and carrying out change, but your leadership as a White person in the change process is not.

The best investment we can make for marginalized communities is to actively create and hold space for leaders of color at every level from executives to interns. Invest time and energy into continuous self-reflection and selfevaluation. This is not the path for everyone, but I hope you can see that there are a variety of actions that can shift the paradigm of the environmental movement. If you find yourself unsure of what action steps best align with where you or your organization are at on your equity journey, then reach out to organizations led by people of color, consultants, and leaders and hire them for their leadership and expertise. By placing yourself in the passenger seat, with a person of color as the driver, you can identify areas to leverage your privilege to benefit marginalized communities.

Finally, share an act of gratitude. Be cognizant of opportunities to step back and step aside and actively pursue ways to listen, understand and practice empathy with your colleagues, community members, neighbors and friends.

Camp ELSO is an example of the outcomes of this advice. Our achievements are most notable because it is within the context of an organization led 100 percent by people of color from our Board of Directors to our seasonal staff. This in the context of a city and state with a history of racial oppression and in a field that is historically exclusively White.
We began as a community-supported project and are growing into a thriving community-based organization successfully providing a vital service for Black and Brown youths across the Portland metro area. The support we have received has crossed cultures, bridged the racial divide and united partners around our vision. It is built from the financial investments of allies – public agencies, foundations, corporations and individuals. I see this as an act of solidarity with our work and our mission, and more importantly, an act of solidarity and support for our unwavering commitment to racial equity.

Empowering Female Voices

Empowering Female Voices

 

Brave with Braids
Empowering young female voices

By Jennifer Allen

uthor Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words have been echoing in my head recently; “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller, we say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much.’ ‘You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you would threaten the man.’” Up until five years ago, I was that small girl. I strongly believed that I could not learn. I went through school without faith in my abilities in math or science, and history and language felt irrelevant. Fortunately, when I attended college, I met a few professors who provided me with life altering experiences, and my attitude towards learning completely changed. My new love of learning fueled my way through my undergraduate degree in education. After graduation, I spent three years teaching fifth grade science, hoping to inspire the same love of learning. Today, I am working towards my Masters in Science Education, somewhere I never dreamed I would be academically. I am a part of a unique program through the University of Washington called Education for Environment and Community at IslandWood, an outdoor school on Bainbridge Island, WA. I take classes and teach students who come from the Seattle area and stay for nearly a week to learn about science, stewardship, and teamwork.

There is a stark difference between classroom teaching and where I am now. Breaking down the classroom walls and teaching in the natural world means that I get to spend my days exploring the forest, wetlands, and shoreline with students, looking for magical teaching moments and providing lessons in the context of the content. What I didn’t anticipate is how much I would miss building strong relationships with students over the course of a year. I miss watching their growth, coaching them through arguments they would get in with friends, and being a shoulder for them to cry on when things didn’t feel safe at home. During my first few weeks teaching at IslandWood, I contemplated if I was making any lasting impact in such a short time spent with the students. Just when I had decided that I could make a bigger difference elsewhere, I met a girl who changed my mind.

In my group that week were four girls, most of whom were incredibly soft-spoken, and five boys, most of whom were loud and opinionated. Where the boys scribbled down answers to reflection questions and quickly returned to exploring or joking around with each other, the girls took their time, answering thoughtfully and with perfect, petite handwriting. When a question was posed to the group, the boys were quick to raise their hands or shout out answers, while the girls either avoided eye contact or hesitantly put their hands in the air. It was troubling how quick the girls were to step back and let the spotlight shine on the boys of the group, and how happy the boys were to bask in it. This confidence gap became most apparent with Maddie*, a small girl in a bright pink raincoat with her hair pulled back in two neat braids.

The first time her confidence, or lack thereof, was brought to my attention was on our way down to Blakely Harbor, about a mile and a half away from IslandWood’s main campus. Each team member had a role to fill on our way down the hill. Maddie was a “Navigator” along with Nate*, a highly eloquent and confident boy. Maddie had communicated with me early on that she did not like to speak in front of groups of her peers, so when she volunteered to be a Navigator, I was delightfully surprised. Armed with their maps and a compass, they started to lead the way, as I walked a few strides behind them with the rest of the group. Nate’s friend Mateo*, an equally confident and even more outspoken boy, decided he would help the pair in finding their way to the harbor. We reached a split in the trail, the trio paused, and the two boys loudly proclaimed we needed to go to the left. Maddie disagreed quietly as the boys took off. She had an idea of which way to go with evidence to back it up, but did not have the confidence to share it with her male peers.

I was once a lot like Maddie. I lacked confidence in my ideas and in my ability to contribute them to a group. As I read Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap by Peggy Orenstein, I was frequently faced with memories of my past; my development as a young woman was reflected in the stories of many of the 8th grade girls with whom Orenstein spent time over the course of a year. I was reminded of my lack of confidence, my need to be well-liked, and my fear of making mistakes, especially in public. I was also reminded of many students from my three years in the classroom. Daily, it was made clear that there was a discrepancy between the boys and girls when it comes to academic self confidence. Orenstein described this accurately when she states, “For a girl, the passage into adolescence is not just marked by a menarche or a few new curves. It is marked by a loss of confidence in herself and her abilities, especially in math and science.” (1994, p. xx)

Troubled by the evidence of the confidence gap in my personal and professional experience as well as in my research, I reflected on how I got myself to graduate school coming from the days of making myself small and believing that I could not learn. I started to wonder where I gained my current, sometimes-wavering, but much higher sense of confidence. Slowly, I began to realize that my most influential moments were those spent outdoors. I found confidence deep on the rainforest floor, high up in the misty cloud forest, on the tops of frigid mountains, in the eyes of bats, and the flippers of sea turtles. It took until college for me to experience science in a way that was accessible, in a place we can all feel a connection: the natural world.

According to the Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation survey done in 2009, only 24% of the STEM careers in the United States are filled by women (2011). Women are underrepresented in these fields because we, as teachers and parents, fail to provide girls with an accessible science and math education. Giving girls a meaningful, natural, scientific experience at the prime time for their coming into womanhood will plant a seed that, with the right amount of nurturing, can grow into a gloriorious bloom of self love, determination, and confidence in science.

This started to become clear to me during my week with Maddie and her classmates. After several minutes of reluctance, she eventually spoke up about which way the harbor was. The boys finally listened to her and decided to try it out. When it was clear that they were leading us the correct way, Maddie beamed. I watched her closely throughout the week as she began to participate, get her hands dirty, and shamelessly and aggressively participate in science.

Her new confidence began to leak into other areas. When the boys were loudly playing the piano in the art studio the next day, I saw her staring longingly in their direction. “Can you play?” I asked. She nodded shyly, as if she knew what I was going to say next; “Let’s hear it!” After many shakes of her head and encouragement from me, including a reminder of the navigation event the day before, she agreed to play a song and blew us all away with the beautiful tune. The climax of the entire week came on the last night, when she sang a song all by herself in front of over 100 other students at community campfire. She was extraordinarily nervous and insistent that she wouldn’t end up performing. When she got on stage and started to sing, tears filled my eyes. Here was a young girl that came to IslandWood on Monday, reluctant to talk in front of her eight other group members, putting herself in one of the most vulnerable positions a fifth grader can be in. I watched Maddie steadily feel more comfortable with science as she engaged in hands-on, approachable activities and team building.

At IslandWood and in similar programs, there is a focus not only on the sciences, but on building a safe community. Between countless team building opportunities and honest and explicit discussions on kindness, empathy, and emotional and physical safety we create an environment that allows students to feel comfortable to take risks and make mistakes. This space allows girls to begin to engage scientifically, and Maddie is not the only girl in whom I have seen this growth.

More recently, I had a group of five girls and seven boys. Like Maddie’s group, most of the girls were timid to participate in discussions, and most of the boys had more to say than we had time to hear. On Tuesday morning, we had a discussion to debrief an activity called Each One Teach One, where each student takes turns teaching the other students about a plant found on IslandWood property. The students had a chance to reflect on the discussion questions beforehand by answering them in their field journals. The first question was, “What was it like to be a teacher?” The students were encouraged to call on each other and they did so by whose hand was up. Every student with their hand up had the chance to share. Five of the twelve students responded, with 100% of the responses coming from males. Not a single female raised her hand to contribute.

We focused a lot that week on team building and productive discussions, and it paid off. I watched as the girls gradually opened up more to each other, the group, and me. Our two navigators for our Wednesday Harbor trip were both females who started the week off not at all friends, but had their arms around each other’s shoulders by the time we go to the harbor. When we were exploring the nutrient cycle, it was mostly the girls who dug their hands deep into the compost and fearlessly breathed in the scent of decomposition. On Thursday morning before the students left, we had one last group discussion. I posed the question, “What can you do after IslandWood to continue practicing stewardship?” This time, there were 22 total student responses, 64% of which were from males (who made up 58% of the group) and 36% from females (who made up 42% of the group.) Every student responded verbally, and four students responded in writing. After they had left, I sat down to read the feedback the group had left for me. One of the questions was, “What was one thing I taught you?” Atari*, the most quiet of the girls, the one who needed the most encouragement to share her ideas, wrote, “You taught me that my voice matters.”

I have only been teaching at IslandWood for a short amount of time, but I have learned that I can make a difference in students’ lives in just four short days. I’ve seen many girls, and even some boys, go from keeping their eyes on the ground and standing aside to getting their hands dirty. I’ve seen them go from speaking in near whispers to getting excited about science. Seeing these incredible changes take place never fails to fill my heart. We need to teach boys to share the spotlight and encourage girls to shine. We need to provide an accessible science education for girls if we want to live in a society where all genders share the responsibility of caring for the environment and moving forward through the STEM fields.

References

Adichie, C.N. (2012, November). We should all be feminists [Video file]. Retrieved from

 

Beede, D. N., Julian, T. A., Langdon, D., McKittrick, G., Khan, B., & Doms, M. E. (2011). Women in STEM: A gender gap to innovation.

Orenstein, P., & American Association of University Women (1994). Schoolgirls: Young women, self-esteem, and the confidence gap.

Advice for White Environmentalists and Nature Educators

Advice for white environmentalists and nature educators

by Sprinavasa Brown

I often hear White educators ask “What should I do?” expressing an earnest desire to move beyond talking about equity and inclusion to wanting action steps toward meaningful change.
I will offer you my advice as a fellow educator. It is both a command and a powerful tool for individual and organizational change for those willing to shift their mindset to understand it, invest the time to practice it and hold fast to witness its potential.

The work of this moment is all about environmental justice centered in social justice, led by the communities most impacted by the outcomes of our collective action. It’s time to leverage your platform as a White person to make space for the voice of a person of color. It’s time to connect your resources and wealth to leaders from underrepresented communities so they can make decisions that place their community’s needs first.

If you have participated in any diversity trainings, you are likely familiar with the common process of establishing group agreements. Early on, set the foundation for how you engage colleagues, a circumspect reminder that meaningful interpersonal and intrapersonal discourse has protocols in order to be effective. I appreciate these agreements and the principles they represent because they remind us that this work is not easy. If you are doing it right, you will and should be uncomfortable, challenged and ready to work toward a transformational process that ends in visible change.

I want you to recall one such agreement: step up, step back, step aside.

That last part is where I want to focus. It’s a radical call to action: Step aside! There are leaders of color full of potential and solutions who no doubt hold crucial advice and wisdom that organizations are missing. Think about the ways you can step back and step aside to share power. Step back from a decision, step down from a position or simply step aside. If you currently work for or serve on the board of an organization whose primary stakeholders are from communities of color, then this advice is especially for you.
Stepping aside draws to attention arguably the most important and effective way White people can advance racial equity, especially when working in institutions that serve marginalized communities. To leverage your privilege for marginalized communities means removing yourself from your position and making space for Black and Brown leaders to leave the margins and be brought into the fold of power.

You may find yourself with the opportunity to retire or take another job. Before you depart, commit to making strides to position your organization to hire a person of color to fill the vacancy. Be outspoken, agitate and question the status quo. This requires advocating for equitable hiring policies, addressing bias in the interview process and diversifying the pool with applicants with transferable skills. Recruit applicants from a pipeline supported and led by culturally specific organizations with ties to the communities you want to attract, and perhaps invite those community members to serve on interview panels with direct access to hiring managers.

As an organizational leader responsible for decisions related to hiring, partnerships and board recruitment, I have made uncomfortable, hard choices in the name of racial equity, but these choices yield fruitful outcomes for leaders willing to stay the course. I’ve found myself at crossroads where the best course forward wasn’t always clear. This I have come to accept is part of my equity journey. Be encouraged: Effective change can be made through staying engaged in your personal equity journey. Across our region we have much work ahead at the institutional level, and even more courage is required for hard work at the interpersonal level.

In stepping aside you create an opportunity for a member of a marginalized community who may be your colleague, fellow board member or staff member to access power that you have held.

White people alone will not provide all of the solutions to fix institutional systems of oppression and to shift organizational culture from exclusion to inclusion. These solutions must come from those whose voices have not been heard. Your participation is integral to evolving systems and organizations and carrying out change, but your leadership as a White person in the change process is not.

The best investment we can make for marginalized communities is to actively create and hold space for leaders of color at every level from executives to interns. Invest time and energy into continuous self-reflection and selfevaluation. This is not the path for everyone, but I hope you can see that there are a variety of actions that can shift the paradigm of the environmental movement. If you find yourself unsure of what action steps best align with where you or your organization are at on your equity journey, then reach out to organizations led by people of color, consultants, and leaders and hire them for their leadership and expertise. By placing yourself in the passenger seat, with a person of color as the driver, you can identify areas to leverage your privilege to benefit marginalized communities.

Finally, share an act of gratitude. Be cognizant of opportunities to step back and step aside and actively pursue ways to listen, understand and practice empathy with your colleagues, community members, neighbors and friends.

Camp ELSO is an example of the outcomes of this advice. Our achievements are most notable because it is within the context of an organization led 100 percent by people of color from our Board of Directors to our seasonal staff. This in the context of a city and state with a history of racial oppression and in a field that is historically exclusively White.
We began as a community-supported project and are growing into a thriving community-based organization successfully providing a vital service for Black and Brown youths across the Portland metro area. The support we have received has crossed cultures, bridged the racial divide and united partners around our vision. It is built from the financial investments of allies – public agencies, foundations, corporations and individuals. I see this as an act of solidarity with our work and our mission, and more importantly, an act of solidarity and support for our unwavering commitment to racial equity.

Sprinavasa Brown is the co-founder and executive director of Camp ELSO. She also serves on Metro’s Public Engagement Review Committee and the Parks and Nature Equity Advisory Committee.