By Julio Duno
“Our Story, Our Mission” are the words that begin Colorado College’s Outdoor Education “About Us” page, but as history reveals, the word “our” is not representative of students of color, of students who identify as LGBTQ+, or of low-income students. At its simplest, CC’s Outdoor Education program (CCOE) offers experiential opportunities in the outdoors and offers a variety of certifications, endorsements, skills trainings, or jobs that allow one to cultivate their love for the outdoors as well as develop useful skills such as leadership. However, CC as a whole has been subject to many criticisms regarding its mission towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially in terms of the student population containing an overwhelming amount of white and wealthy students in comparison to other colleges across the U.S. These concerns about the college’s empty promises in creating a more inclusive campus only strengthens when focusing solely on its Outdoor Education program.
CCOE does not fail to recognize the disparities in its participant demographics, and regularly states its commitment “to diversity and inclusion through a collective journey of physical and emotional challenge while cultivating a sense of place in the areas we explore.” While this statement might seem appealing to some, we cannot fail to recognize that actions, for the most part, have more power than words. Again, CCOE acknowledges this and offers and promotes trips and trainings such as Bridge Scholar Leadership Development Program, Queer Nature, FOOT: Students of Color Backpacking as well as offering financial aid for every trip/training offered as an attempt to expand the outdoors as a place welcoming to all, not just to the average white, wealthy, and straight man depicted in any outdoors-related magazine or store. Although these initiatives are much appreciated, the truth is that the Outdoor Education program at CC receives a substantial amount of funding compared to other programs/departments, which only further advances the stereotype that CC focuses on making the majority of its population (white and financially stable) happy, hoping that the rest of its demographics assimilate to such culture and lifestyles.
It is important to note that the blame is not towards the Outdoor Education program. As a queer, Latino immigrant, and low-income student myself, I have been exposed to many of the initiatives that CCOE offers to establish an inclusive environment as well as connecting with the staff that have clearly been well-trained to recognize the significance of inclusion.
Nonetheless, life consists of many endless cycles, and CC and its mission towards diversity, equity, and inclusion is a clear victim of this. Instances of CC’s drawbacks in this area includes the failure to replace Britt McClintock as the Inclusion & Identity Coordinator at the Outdoor Education program after she left, and perhaps more significantly, the negligence of students’ concerns towards the recent changes made to The Butler Center, which ultimately led to the controversial departure of a significant figure who advocated and allocated many of The Butler Center’s programs funds towards inclusion in the outdoors, Dr. Buckley. It is now unclear with the new (and unasked for) modifications to The Butler Center if the initiatives made in collaboration between CCOE and The Butler Center towards shifting outdoor culture to a more inclusive environment will continue to advance or leave through the same door through which Dr. Buckley was forced to leave.