Intercultural Center Outdoor Program Trip Creates Mixed Emotions

This guest column was written by Gladys Gitau ’15

I have thoughts about the outdoors.

A majority of these thoughts are questions. Why would I spend time and money physically risking my comfort and health?

More importantly, I never felt that I belonged outdoors. My family could never take time off to just enjoy nature, and I grew up internalizing that I couldn’t afford to be outside.

Recently, I gave nature a try. I went on two outdoor programs, both during the biannual Intercultural Center Outdoor Program Trip. The idea behind the co-sponsored event is to expose students from backgrounds like mine to the outdoors.

I can’t lie. I loved it. Cross country skiing especially was challenging, but there was something healing about being in the woods right after a snowfall. It was a foreign but welcome experience.

It was a foreign and welcome experience for the most part, I should say. Whenever we ran into other groups, nearly all of them white, I thought that they looked strange, too casual about the snow around them. They were comfortable, like they had some claim to that land. They always smiled politely at us brown kids as we stumbled and made our way down the path, as if to say, “Look how cute they are—I wonder what kind of outdoor urban exposure program they’re part of.” In this moment, I felt I had to explain the presence of my brown body outside on these uncharted paths.

Growing up in urban, working class, immigrant neighborhoods, I never felt a claim to anything in nature. The land we were on was government owned, or I knew we could pick up and move any second. Why, I thought? Why didn’t I feel like this part of nature could be mine? Too suddenly, I was reminded that someone paid for me to be on this trip. Nothing was free, even the outdoors. I was reminded of why I didn’t like such activities. Even in nature, I could never just exist.

No, I thought. I had just as much of a right to be here. The sky was mine. The trees were mine. Just like the nice white people we passed on the trail, I too began to feel comfortable.

I know my brown body will always be in question, even out in nature. So someone had paid for me to enjoy these things that should be free, that I couldn’t afford on my own.  For that day, the outdoors belonged to me, no questions asked.




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