An Insight into Racial Inequities for Black Youth and Youth of Color in Outdoor Spaces with Dr. Corliss Outley

February 11, 2022

This weekend Dr Corliss Outley will be presenting her keynote speech at the Coalition for Education in the Outdoors 15th Biennial Research Symposium. The speech is entitled, “Stand Up!: Race, Freedom Calls and Outdoor Education”, and emphasizes that:

Everyone deserves the opportunity to experience quality environmental and outdoor learning. Yet, for many the right to live, work, learn and play in the outdoors has been limited. The inclusion of all cannot be the work of one person or even one organization–individuals must work together to intentionally change policies, pedagogy, curriculum, culture, and systems.”

During Black History Month, our YDL team wanted to highlighted the important messages Dr. Outley brings to our collection attention in her keynote speech and, more broadly, her research endeavors to address issues of race in the field of youth development. While Black History Month is poignant reminder of the social and racial inequities in our society, as Dr. Outley points out, there is a need for collective and intentional change that far exceeds a single month.

In this blog post, we’re taking a specific focus on the social dynamic that exists between outdoor settings and issues of race; specifically, stereotypes, discrimination, and feelings of isolation for Blacks and people of color in the outdoors.

Click image to read Outdoor Afro Connects Black Americans with Nature

History and Recent Incidents of Racial Injustice in the Outdoors

When discussing the changes required to promote engagement in the outdoors for Black youth and other youth of color, we need to also consider how their perception of the outdoors has been shaped by historical oppression and more recent discriminatory actions.

Historically, outdoor spaces could be considered a dangerous or threatening environment for not only Blacks but other people of color as well. For example, we do not need to delve too far into our history to see horrific images of Black people being lynched in woodland spaces, Black youth being harassed and chased out of White suburban communities, and racial segregation in parks.

By acknowledging the history of brutality and discrimination that has occurred in outdoors spaces, we can begin to understand why there may be issues of generational trauma associated with the outdoors, contributing to present day feelings of dissociation and stigmatization.

More recently, the cases of Ahmaud Arbery, who was murdered by two White men when jogging through a suburban neighborhood under false accusation, Chris Cooper, who was racially abused while bird watching in Central Park, and a family who were harassed, threatened, and effectively held hostage while on a nature reserve trip, highlight resounding issues of racism in natural spaces and reinforce implicit messages that Blacks and people of color are not safe in outdoors environments.

Although the cases highlighted above are extreme examples that make news headlines, Dr. Outley contends that they are the manifestation of racist undertones and attitudes within society that isolate oppressed groups from natural spaces. Indeed, a recent piece in the New York times gives a compelling account of Black surfers’ feelings of prejudice and discrimination in a sport that has historical roots in African countries but has often been considered a primarily White sport.

Act Now and Affect Change for Youth

In light of recent events and historical issues of discrimination and trauma for Blacks and people of color in the outdoors, there is a need for researchers in the field of youth development, and specifically outdoor education, to work with communities and organizations to make natural settings accessible, safe, and places for growth and well-being for young people of color.

Dr. Outley, suggests six core principles that should be at the forefront of the thinking and practices of researchers and organizations when aiming to nurture young people’s growth in nature.

  1. Recognize historical oppression/ invisibility
    • Bring attention to historical marginalization at the individual level and systemic racism that manifests itself in present day structures and operations in your communities and countries.
  2. Gain Cultural Competency
    • Increase awareness, gain knowledge, and acquire skills to work with Black girls and boys & their families.
  3. Examine your own organizations 
    • Awareness of organizational culture (e.g., being anti-racism takes action, not denial)
    • Capacity building to change behaviors (e.g., workshops to enhance cultural competence)
    • Take action on the biased policies, procedures, practices, and norms that led to community disinvestment and child developmental deficits.
  4. Name it & Educate
    • Name Anti-Blackness, Racism and Misogynoir for what it is (action), include examples of what it looks like (educate), and the ways that it manifests in all aspects of society (awareness).
  5. Become an Ally & Advocate
    • Actively support policies that affirm Black girls and boys.
    • Assist in healing from racial trauma (e.g., acknowledge the impact of racial trauma and provide safe spaces to discuss experiences)
    • Encourage and Respect Inclusion in the Outdoors (e.g., build a sense of belonging in the outdoors)
    • Know the difference: ‘Ally ‘– assist/support in current efforts; ‘Advocate’ – aim to influence by formal support, acknowledging & utilizing your privilege to engage in order to make social/political change.
  6. Say it Loud & Proud!
    • Anti-Blackness is centered on the belief that Black girls and boys and their accomplishments are inferior, it is critical that Black excellence is identified and spoken of frequently.

If Dr. Outley’s work on race, youth development, and the outdoors has piqued your interest…

Dr. Outley is just one of a team of developmental experts who teach in Clemson University’s online Master of Science degree in Youth Development Leadership (36 credit hours, 12 courses, 2 years) as well as a Graduate Certificate in youth development leadership (15 credit hours, 5 courses). These programs are uniquely designed for professionals working in youth development settings. For more information, visit or email

Resources & Organizations

Color in the Outdoors Want to learn more about the world around you? “Interested in getting outside with other people of color? Come join us. Whether it’s your first time, or your hundredth, we’d love to have you out with us”.

Diversify Outdoors. Resources.

Indigenous Women Hike. “We are a collective of Indigenous women reconnecting with our ancestral homelands”.

Latino Outdoors. “a unique national Latinx-led organization, working to create and support a network of ambicultural leaders in the outdoor, conservation, and nature movement. As part of this work, we are focused on expanding the Latinx experience in the outdoors and providing greater opportunities for leadership, mentorship, and professional development”.

The Sunrise Movement. “a national nonprofit organization that encourages young people to get involved with advocating against climate change”.

Watch: A Conversation About Racism in the Outdoors.

Reading and References

Atlantic Re: Think.  (2020). Five Ways to Make the Outdoors More Inclusive:  An Action Plan for Change.

Fisher, C. (2020). Multicultural Wilderness. Environmental humanities, 12, 51-87.

Rao, T.Y., & Roberts, N. (2018). Voices of Women of Colour: Dreaming of an Inclusive Outdoor Leadership Environment.

Rakow, D. & Brown, L. (2021). Anti-racism in the Outdoors: Resources related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion of Black, Indigenous and People of Color in parks and greenspaces.

Wilkerson, I. (2020). Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Random House Publishing Group.