What is missing from these pictures of our field staff?
This has been an ongoing problem in the outdoor field, especially when it comes to racial diversity. Lack of representation in magazines, advertisements, and on social media communicates by omission that the outdoors is a space reserved for white (also thin, upper-class, cisgender, male) people. It is the shared responsibility of organizations and individuals to change this.
In our efforts to deliver life-changing wilderness experiences, we believe the wilderness is for everyone, and COBS is for everyone. We also recognize we are failing to deliver equitably in two large areas. The first is that we are not representing people of color equally in our photos, videos, and marketing of our courses — because we don’t have equal representation on our courses. The second is that from day-one of course, we are not able to serve our students of color as well as we serve white students. With a primarily white staff there are limitations to being able to fully relate to many of the issues our students of color face, especially those that are intensified by complex social dynamics or in new environments. We are aware that our ability to address and support our students’ needs is deeply tied to our ability to relate from personal experience.
These two obstacles are mutually reinforcing. If we aren’t visually representing that COBS is a place for everyone, we are far less likely to see a diverse population of students enrolling. If we don’t have diversity in our student population, we aren’t developing a diverse pool of potential future outdoor educators. And if we aren’t cultivating diversity in that potential pool, then we aren’t going to change the demographics of our staff. And thus, we continue to not serve students of color with the same quality or frequency as we serve white students.
We know we have a lot of work to do. We’d like to share with you some of our efforts in hopes that other organizations will also think about what they can do to make the outdoor industry more representative of our communities.
COBS has been working with the Avarna Group to incorporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into our staff training. We hope that this training will enable our staff to acknowledge privilege and biases and better recognize dynamics on course that they might have previously been unaware of. Secondly, by educating our staff and equipping them with more tools, the trainings aim to empower staff to be stronger advocates and to facilitate more productive conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion on course and within our staff community.
This season we are also excited to implement a new program, the COBS Access Stipend. This fund is dedicated to helping remove some of the financial barriers to employment in the outdoor industry for people of color who are beginning their outdoor career. The funding can be used for expenses such as the costs associated with transportation to the basecamp at the beginning of the season, support for WFR or WFA-WFR bridge certification, or support in gear purchasing required gear.
Applicants should show an investment in the industry (such as an educator course, outdoor based college program, alumni status with COBS, or employment application to COBS). Please spread the word!