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Diversity on Outings
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by Dan Soeder | 2008

Because the outings program is an entry point into the Club for many people, the national outings committee has decided that outings should lead the way on diversity to better represent the wide variety of people who live in the United States.

The  Sierra Club is seeking to become more diverse, and to better represent the wide variety of people who live in the United States.  As a start, a number of national outings committee members (including yours truly) attended diversity training  a few weekends ago in Tampa.  I’ve been through several of these, because my agency holds them on a regular basis, and I thought the Sierra Club class was above average.

The training raised a lot of questions, including how we view racial, gender, age and sexual orientation stereotypes.  We learned that many people possess a stereotype of the Sierra Club as being predominantly white, middle-aged to senior, and affluent.  While not entirely true, this perception often makes it difficult for the Club to engage some segments of the population where we’d like our environmental message to be heard.

Because the outings program is an entry point into the Club for many people, the national outings committee has decided that outings should lead the way on diversity.  We don’t collect diversity data on the outings sign-in sheets, but anecdotal information suggests that Club outings participants (and leaders) tend to be middle-aged to older white men, and middle-aged to younger white women.  Besides the general dearth of younger white men and older white women, the lack of participation on our outings by people from African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Middle-Eastern and other ethnic groups is a significant concern. These groups make up huge segments of the population in the Washington and Baltimore areas. Somehow we are missing them.

Are these people not interested in the environment?  I don’t think so.  It’s  hard to live around here and not be concerned about the poor health of the Chesapeake Bay, the loss of forest and farmland to urban sprawl, or the appalling air quality in our big cities, to name just three issues. Perhaps these ethnic groups just don’t like the outdoors?  I don’t think that’s true either. Organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are far more diverse than the Sierra Club, and run outdoor activity programs that are world-class.

I believe it’s a question of comfort level.  Even under the best of circumstances, it can be difficult to show up at a trailhead and go hiking with  strangers.  Now imagine if not a single one of those strangers looked like you, talked like you, or shared your culture.  This can be a formidable obstacle, and a lot of people might decide just to  stay home. 

It is much more pleasant to go on a hike with people who are familiar, and are friends.  All of us know people from diverse races, religions, national origins and backgrounds.  They might be neighbors, co-workers, folks from church, whatever.  We may count some of them among our friends.  So if you’re going on an outing this spring, why not invite one of these friends to come along?  They’ll be comfortable being with someone they know, and maybe they’ll have enough fun to bring another friend next time, and our program will grow.  Sometimes, all that is needed is for someone to extend an invitation.  This is how we will start to diversify the outings program and the Sierra Club.

We are offering a wide variety of outings at many different skill levels this spring. All of them are open to everyone.  I would like to invite  our members, regardless of their race, creed, ethnicity, age, gender, or sexual orientation to please consider joining us on an outing.  We’d love to have you along, and it would do you, us, and the Sierra Club a world of good.

Thanks. See you outside. All of you.

 

Dan Soeder,  Dan.Soeder@sierraclub.org, is the MD Chapter Outings Chair

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