April 29, 2022 | LIFE | By Kristen Richards | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
The first time I told someone I was going to school in Colorado, they asked me if I skied. Until very recently, I didn’t know the sweaters seemingly everyone at Colorado College wears are called Melanzanas and are made by a company based in Leadville. In the West, Chacos sandals are better known than the Birkenstocks of the East Coast. These are certain intricacies interlaced with CC student culture in a way that is both connecting and exclusive.
I recently acquired my first pair of Chacos–recently as in today–and while I was contemplating whether the strappy-toed sandals are worth it, I thought about my reasoning for wanting to purchase them in the first place. Is it for me, or is it for the image that I am trying to create out of material parts that CC culture has taught me to believe is the “coolest” and “most outdoorsy?”
At CC, being outdoorsy does not necessarily mean that you like to go hiking on the weekends; rather, it is stretched to the extremes. Block breaks, which are advertised as the much-needed time to rest after a block, are times to not only explore the outdoors, but to explore the outdoors in a vigorous and overtly adventurous way.
At CC, climbing doesn’t just mean that you like to spend an evening in the climbing gym every once in a while, but that you own all the climbing gear necessary to go to climb in Moab during block break. Hiking is not just around the Tiger Trail, but up Pike’s Peak and the Incline and sometimes all the way to the Rockies.
There is nothing about these stereotypes and ideals that is objectively bad. All these activities are beautiful and adventurous ways to interact with the environment and each other. These stereotypes are the very things that bring us together and make us a community.
However, this is an aspect of these common interests that does, at some point, become exclusive. They are ableist and classist and assume that everyone who wants to climb or ski has both the physical and financial ability to participate in the activity. Perhaps these common interests are more than just things connecting student to student, skier to skier, or climber to climber.
Maybe in the attempt to connect students, the exclusivity of the most common activities of CC students is whittling the student demographic down to only those who have the desire and full ability to engage with these stereotypes.
How can we make visible the people, personalities, and experiences that are beyond the outdoorsy ideal? Rather than making CC less outdoorsy, why can’t we make it more of everything else?
There are nuanced aspects to this CC ideal as well: stickers that advertise ski mountains or tourist towns around the Southwest, Patagonia sweatshirts and backpacks, and Blundstone boots. At times, I look around a classroom and think that we are all just advertisements for REI. But these material objects also mean something to us.
What is important in recognizing this stereotype and these similarities is also to acknowledge who is not fitting this ideal and why they do not, or cannot, conform to something that the majority of the student population enthusiastically endorses.