SCA Senior Vice President Flip Hagood will deliver the opening address at the Wilderness Risk Management Conference in Portland, OR in October. In this Q&A with SCA’s Risk Management Director Steve Smith, Flip offers a preview of his remarks.
What does the WRMC community need to hear that they’re not accustomed to hearing?
We in the WRMC community have a role to play as leaders – thought leaders and action leaders – to engage more of youth in the outdoors, and be a catalyst for create a more diverse and inclusive youth community in the future.
What do today’s youth need that the WRMC can help provide?
We have to offer hands-on and minds-on outdoor opportunities that create bridges to safe, risk-aware behaviors that enhance learning, and provide positive experiences for youth that lead to broader engagement and additional step experiences.
What barriers have kept the face of outdoor programming the same over the years?
Individual barriers include those generationally handed down. People worked hard to get away from the discomforts of the outdoors, why go back? The key is to see it as recreation rather than work.
As for institutional barriers, risk managers can be unintentionally unwelcoming, so a self-assessment is required – every one of us can be more culturally competent with a willingness to be supportive and engaged. Just sending out announcements or invitations alone isn’t enough.
How do we overcome those barriers?
We can open portals by letting young folks know it’s okay to be in wild places and the outdoors, and not let fears and anxieties be barriers. Use models of others who have had rewarding experiences and come back to tell about it – I paddled for the first time as a 30 year old and I’m not a great swimmer, but once I felt comfortable, a sense of enjoyment kicked in.
What specific challenges do you plan to issue to the WRMC community?
We must actively seek to build bridges to a more diverse student body and staff in outdoor programs. We need to embody organized activism, to provide leadership and ownership of diversity as an organizational value.
What steps do organizations need to take to increase their cultural competencies?
Self-Assessment for cultural competence, barrier identification, barrier removal, and provide opportunities. Be willing to expose ourselves to a certain amount of organizational discomfort. We need to be willing to do that as organizations in the same way that we ask our students to do so in a kayak or in the mountains.
We also have to build skills in home environments before placing them in new environments – a progression of skills that starts in familiar terrain before going into new terrain. Likewise, thoughtful processing of the return to their community, and how to transfer their skills back into the rest of their lives.
What role should program alumni play in the changes that we’d like to see in the industry?
Hiring your alumni is a testament to an organization’s willingness to walk the talk – if you’re not bringing in your diverse students as staff, then you’re perpetuating the common student complaint that they’re not welcome in the outdoor community because “they don’t see themselves there,” that they don’t see faces that look like their faces. When I can send a Latino kid to talk to another Latino alum or staff from one of our programs, it really increases the chance that we can reach the broadest range of students.