Outdoors For All ~ Course Description

Outdoors For All ~ Course Description

Over the past several months I’ve been preparing materials to teach a college course on the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in outdoor recreation and environmental conservation. Despite having spent the last decade of my life working to unravel the mysteries behind the desparities of those who spend time in nature and those who don’t, I still struggle to understand what we can do to correct them. Having literally written a book on the topic I suppose it was inevitable that would be asked to more thoroughly research this cultural division that I call The Adventure Gap.

For the next four weeks I will break down much of my previous work for a small class of students. Through a series of historic narratives, short documentary films, articles published by noted scholars and guest appearances via telecomference by some of the leading minds in the field of environmental studies, I hope to clarify the current thinking behind the argument for making the outdoors, particularly public land, more accessible to under represented segments of the population. Though I believe few would argue against the notion of our national parks as America’s best idea, I am eager to answer the basic question: Why?

Below you’ll find the description of the course Outdoors For AllI enthusiastically encourage anyone who is interested in sharing their thoughts and opinions  on this topic to participate virtually through this web site. Please share any references or articles that might help move this discussion forward. I’ll do all I can to create a stream of information that details what we discover. Thanks for following this journey.  ~James Edward Mills

An exploration of the racial disparities and inequities of the environmental conservation movement and the efforts that aim to correct them

This summer course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies will provide students with a clear understanding of the socio-cultural circumstances that have created disparities among the U.S. population in citizens’ ability to access and enjoy public land. National parks, wilderness, and monuments that are set aside for recreational enjoyment are disproportionately underutilized by African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans for reasons that are inextricably linked to past and present racial discrimination. Broadening access and participation in outdoor recreation requires a clear understanding of this history, as well as an appreciation of the continuing efforts by people of color to reassert their right to the outdoors.

Learning Outcomes
Upon the successful completion of the course students will:
• Recognize the racial divide between those who spend time in nature for their personal enjoyment and edification and those who do not
• Describe and explain the historic policies, legislation and customs that created an environment of systematic racial discrimination that prevented people of color in the United States of America from creating substantive relationships with the natural world equal to their white counterparts
• Describe and discuss the experiences of specific people of color over the past 100 years of American history who, despite the circumstances of racial discrimination at the time, excelled at creating adventurous experiences and lifestyles
• Recognize, summarize, and analyze the ways that institutions and organizations have prevented under represented members of our society from enjoying experiences in the outdoors and contributing to the long-term preservation of the natural world, as well as the ways they can be used to encourage and support broader access and participation.
• Based on their understanding of past discriminatory practices, be able to analyze, formulate, and defend improved policies and social systems that will encourage diversity, equity and inclusion in the management of public land and the interpretation of our shared natural history.


Required Texts:
Finney, Carolyn, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors. (2014) UNC Press. Chapel Hill, NC.

Johnson, Shelton, Gloryland. (2010) Sierra Club Books. San Francisco, CA.

Lanham, J. Drew, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature. (2016) Milkweed Editions. Minneapolis, MN.

Mills, James Edward, The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors. (2014) Mountaineers Books. Seattle, WA.

Savoy, Lauret, Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape. (2016) Counterpoint Press. Berkeley, CA.

Recommended Text
Harris, Eddy, Mississippi Solo: A River Quest. (1998) Henry Holt and Company, New York, NY.

Written Assignments:
Class Notebook — You will be asked to keep a notebook that documents and reflects on readings, in class activities, discussions, and some out-of-class short research assignments. Each class day you be given a topic, idea, or assignment to write about. The notebook will be handed in at the end of class each Thursday so we can read and comment on what you have written. We will hand your notebooks back at the beginning of class on Tuesday.

Final Project — Using the classes case-studies and historical narratives as a guide, write a detailed proposal that outlines a recommended strategy for the promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion in outdoor recreation and environmental conservation with a real or imagined government agency, nonprofit organization or corporate entity. This proposal should be concise yet comprehensive and suggest measurable outcomes. The final project should be a maximum of 3 pages.