Association of Washington School Principals
Volume 2 – 2020-21

Learning centers

Finding Time for Leisure
Addressing racial disparity in outdoor experiences
Chase Buffington
Director, Cispus Learning Center
Evaluation Criteria: Creating a Culture, Improving Instruction, Closing the Gap
A chance to see things of beauty has been readily available to all of us by just simply going to national forests and national parks across the United States. Our country is abundant, and many people have taken to the road to find a space in nature to relax and recharge during the pandemic. They have ventured out to monumental sites, decided by the people to be national treasures. Incredibly beautiful, people stand in awe, unable to believe their eyes.
Can you imagine, though, that this is a luxury?
That people do not know these places exist, that they have a built-up fear to go outside, and that affordability is a deterrent to even attempt this leisure activity?
We say the environment is in danger and that we need to save the planet, but many people never spend time outside. How will they feel about changing their decision-making for something that to them does not exist?
The U.S. National Parks Service polled visitors: 2% of visitors were Black, 5% Hispanic, and 5% Asian (Scott & Lee, 2018). Research suggests many things contribute to these numbers, and a lot has to do with how parks are perceived. For example:
  • What is the history of a park and what kind of stories are shared? Many parks were founded by white people and discriminate with a white racial frame. History often shares a story of white settlers and predominant families of wealth. Sometimes that wealth and prosperity earned through slavery (Schecter, 2020).
  • Does a board made of members represent a perspective without representation? Many boards across the country - and not just national parks or forest lands - have entire boards of only white males (Gino, 2017). This could result in a lack of outreach to other uninformed populations of their visitation rights to American lands.
    • Has education done a good job informing students that all are welcome? A National Trust survey found 90% of parents want their children to have a connection with nature during their childhood. Yet, in the confines of a school, the traditional model of staged seating and technology are common. If you have never had a means to get outside with family and school, a fear of the unknown can create a response of “it just isn’t for me.”
      If a profound appreciation from all people does not exist, then a shared belief is hard to imagine. We say the environment is in danger and that we need to save the planet, but many people never spend time outside. How will they feel about changing their decision-making for something that to them does not exist? This exact question goes beyond the topic of the outdoors; it can be cross-examined with racial disparity in all walks of life. Consider for a moment that you were never given an opportunity to see, but you always could. It would be an injustice to hold back the given rights to such happiness.
      Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine that something naturally occurring or commonplace at your home could be unfathomable to another. If you grew up never being told to go outside and play, never heard that “this weekend we are going to see the sights,” and never prepared for an outdoor adventure, you would not magically awaken one day to a newfound hobby. The only way we can make this change is by encouraging our communities to take up outdoor efforts such as the “Leave No Trace Principles,” inviting friends to experience a camp outing who may not otherwise have had a chance to go, and mobilizing ourselves to advocate for change that ensures everyone gets equal opportunity by movements such as
      When the unsubstantial change occurs in little ways, the eventual adaptation for all will wave over in an instant.

      Environment; Why Are So Few Minorities Visiting Our Parks, David Schecter; 2020.
      The George Wright Forum, People of Color and Their Constraints to National Parks Visitation, David. Scott & Kang Fae Ferry Lee; 2018; vol. 35 no. 1.
      Scientific American, Another Reason Top Managers Are Disproportionally White Men, Francesca Gino; 2017.
      Leave No Trace Principles
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