- On August 7, 2020
As a business and community we understand the necessity of listening to and learning from the voices that have been silenced and experiences that have been ignored in order to provide a safe and welcoming environment for diversity. Creating an inclusive space is a priority, and we are learning that its development requires constant awareness and effort.
On July 28, we were honored to host a panel discussion on Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (aka J.E.D.I.) with three women in our community, the recap of which can be found below. Their raw and honest responses helped add to an essential foundation of understanding, which we are using to better our efforts of making our community more inclusive and our spaces easier to access for underrepresented groups.
If you’d like to watch the full Q&A, please head to our IGTV.
We welcome feedback and participation; you can share your thoughts with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet the Speakers
Andrea Ramos Campos // Moderator
Andrea, The Front’s HR Generalist, is a 1st generation Afro-Peruvian immigrant and lover of the outdoors. As a resident of Salt Lake City, she knows there is not much representation in the outdoors for BIPOC communities and is very passionate about being that representation and showing others and hopefully young women of color that brown girls can and do climb too. They also hike, camp, snowboard and do so many other activities they’re unfortunately underrepresented in.
Ashley Cleveland // Panelist
Ashley Cleveland Ashley is a California native, former jr. ecologist, active city planner and current outdoor leader. She enjoys identifying plants, talking about ecology and loving on her community as @outdoorauntie.
Nikki Smith // Panelist
Nikki is a transgender woman and long-time friend and member of the Salt Lake climbing and outdoor community. Nikki brings a unique perspective and experience to the conversation around safe spaces, allyship and inclusiveness. In addition to her speaking and advocacy work, she’s also one of the top climbing photographers of her generation and is widely published in climbing media. You can see more of her work at her website and Instagram.
Neelam Chand // Panelist
Neelam is an accomplished diversity, equity and inclusion expert with a decade of experience of embedding multiculturalism into a business strategy and facilitating critical dialogue on systemic change within a workplace environment. She currently works at Zions Bank as an SVP, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, where she provides workshops on topics that include social justice, tokenism, microaggressions, implicit bias, intersectionality and women of color in the workplace. When it comes to inclusion work, her philosophy is to “keep it real” and to skip the etiquette of making people feel comfortable.
Note: Sadly, we had last minute technical issues with our Zoom call so Neelam, who was attending remotely, was unable to join.
Change does not come within our comfort zone and as Neelam has said, we must feel uncomfortable to begin the process of empathy and inspire positive change. There are people trying to step up who have never taken action like this before or who have never been a part of these conversations. What advice do you have for those people learning to sit with this discomfort and be a part of the change?
Ashley: Be still, start reading. Follow accounts and change what you are ingesting. If some of this new information you’re ingesting makes you uncomfortable, really reflect on why that’s the case. Similar to the first time climbing, anything new is scary because of the unknown. Calm down, check in your anxiety, maybe talk to a friend and don’t hop into someone’s inbox or DMs first thing. Consider journaling as well as talking to your parents about this discomfort so you can get a better understanding of where yours is coming from. Once you realize that some of this can be generational, you are in a better position to separate yourself from it.
Nikki: As climbers we celebrate uncomfortableness – type 2 fun, fear of heights, safety third, suffering in the mountains. But we often only apply it to climbing or recreation, and we need to focus that more on issues like this. We tend to get too focused on one thing so when a new concept comes along that makes you uncomfortable – focus in on that and why it makes you feel that way. Then start to break it down into parts and work through that. Like on a climb, learn the beta (aka do the research) and go section by section rather than seeing it as one big thing to tackle. It’ll take time and you will make mistakes, but it’s about getting out there and being willing to try and living with that discomfort. This is a project, not an onsight.
We also come into situations thinking we have to know or understand everything right away – but there are simply some things we’ll never be able to understand. We don’t have to understand everything to have empathy.
Unconscious biases are built into our systems and institutions and we’ve probably all been guilty of them at some point. What’s the first step we can take to become more aware of our biases?
Nikki: Start by listening. Many people speak without understanding, or they get defensive and shut off before trying to listen and learn. It may take some time, and you may not have all the answers or feel comfortable right away, but you have to dig into that and start learning by listening, reading books, watching documentaries and coming to panels like this.
Ashley: The first step you can take is by looking at who’s in your immediate circle. Do the people you hang out with and work with look just like you? If they do, ask yourself why? Why are you not in spaces already, as progressive people, that aren’t more inclusive? Spaces that aren’t inclusive can indicate institutional bias, and that’s not something that you built, no one’s blaming you for building it – what we’re asking you to do is look at why it’s there and break it down piece by piece. Another thing that’s really important to think about when talking about institutional biases is thinking about barriers. What if all the things you take for granted as being simple, weren’t there. What if those things like internet access, wages, transportation, etc weren’t as simple and accessible to you? Not everyone has access to those things, and those people aren’t protected because they don’t have access to those things.
I think we can all agree that we want more diversity in the outdoor community, what stands out to you as the biggest hurdles in making that happen?
Nikki: It’s 2020 and we still look at the outdoor industry, at climbing, at magazines and company websites and you don’t see people of color, trans folk, queer folk or people with disabilities. You see the same super young, really fit white folks doing these activities. If you don’t see yourself in these activities, it’s really hard to think that you can fit in.
I’ve been a climber for almost 30 years – my whole life is in this, my career is in this, and I never once in that time saw another visible trans person. I also hardly ever saw anyone who was queer who was a pro climber, or in a visible role in the outdoors. I sat and listened over and over to all my friends tell homophobic and transphobic jokes while we were out climbing. All of that led me to believe that I would not be accepted if I came out. For a lot of trans folks and queer folks, the suicide rate is really high because a lot of people don’t accept us and because of discrimination. It can be really deadly. I got into one of the darkest moments of my life and almost committed suicide, but I decided to come out anyway and try to be the person I needed to see earlier in my life.
How many trans climbers do you know? How many black climbers do you know? We have to be able to see representations of ourselves, and that can come not just from people climbing in a gym, but businesses, gyms, etc can have more diverse pictures on the wall. You can tell companies you support to show more diversity in their ads, catalogs and websites. You all have a lot of power. Look at the organizations that are doing this work already and support them. For the ones that aren’t, send them emails and messages on social media and tell them you want to see change, you want to see more. You can also ask photographers like myself – I didn’t do enough before, but I’m trying to change that now. But other photographers and videographers need to do that too, we need to see different people than the norm in our climbing movies and photos. Start reaching out to people that are creating content and sharing content and ask them to change. Ya’ll can stand up and support this change by pushing these companies and individuals.
Ashley: I have to second that. I have been in the conservation, environmental science and outdoor recreation worlds for quite a bit now, and whenever you go to REI or Patagonia or any of those other amazing brands that have great things to offer, you don’t really see who’s already enjoying the outdoors. It’s not so much of the fact that we’re not there because especially for black people, we’ve always been tied to the land, we’ve always been outside. I mean hello, Harriet Tubman, who do you think we learned camping from? But I definitely think it has a lot to do with our promotional materials and our media.
Even here locally, we have a huge $12 billion industry in our backyard and they make their own promo material. We have a lot of local brands that have started here or are headquartered here like Petzl and Cotopaxi, and we have our own outdoor recreation office in the governor’s office. We have our own magazines. So, you really can make those changes here. It can change if you want it to. I think that’s where a lot of frustration comes from BIPOC communities – I myself, I’m already doing 6 things and my bandwidth is frayed and I can see that’s representative for a lot of my friends and family, and if you have the time to do these things, help us. We can’t be chipping away at this block by ourselves like we’ve been doing. So, I definitely think you should reach out to these large brands, but even locally we have a lot of culture that we can influence. So, what type of culture do you all want to create?
A lot of our members and staff have expressed interest in knowing how to be better allies. I’d love to hear from you what allyship means and how can they be effective allies?
Ashley: First and foremast, I think that people who want to do this work need to know what the difference between an ally is and what an accomplice is. You cannot call yourself an ally – someone from underrepresented communities has to give you that title, and that title comes from doing work. Show up to a march. Sign a petition. Check on your friends and their mental health. When things happen like with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we still have to do to work and we are under extreme mental distress. Between Zoom meetings, we’re crying. We’re not okay. So, if you want to be an ally, say something. You can say I’m not racist all day and say you’re an ally all day, but what are you actually coming out and doing? Talk to your family members at Thanksgiving, I wanna see Thanksgiving 2020 be a hot mess haha! But the difference between being an ally and an accomplice is allies step forward and say something, accomplices are really out there protecting us at protests, out there making sure undocumented folks are cared for. Accomplices are about protecting folks. We welcome both allies and accomplices!
Nikki: I totally agree with Ashley. For me, an ally doesn’t really exist – allyship and the practice of that exists. As Ashley mentioned, only someone from an underrepresented can give you that label, but that doesn’t mean you’re an ally to the entire group. You might have let someone else down and might not have understood what they needed; you might have hurt them in some way. So, to call yourself an ally in some way means the work is done, but it never is. Allyship is a consistent practice, learning and growing.
As someone who’s trans, I often see a lot of times that people will focus on some issues, but they don’t ever speak about trans issues. This year already, 23 black trans women have been murdered, and you rarely hear about that. During Covid, we’ve had legislation after legislation come out about trans folks. We had a Supreme Court decision that said that gender identity and sexual identity are covered under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – not many groups have had to have legislation passed in order for them to do the same things that everybody else does. But then people don’t dive into that legislation and see that it only applies to companies with more than 50 employees. It only applies to companies that don’t argue religious exemptions, so Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A, religious hospitals and others can discriminate. And this happens – just last week a trans person was denied medical services from a hospital chain that was owned by the Catholic church. Businesses can still discriminate against someone; it just takes a claim of religious exemption. We need people to focus on a more issues out there, but it’s hard because there’s so many of them. But often people stay silent. We need everyone to speak up in all different ways.
In turn, what are some well-intentioned things people do, that don’t end up coming off so great?
Ashley: Assumptions, of course. I think anyone wouldn’t appreciate having an assumption made about them. Also, inserting yourselves in a savior or leadership type role when that’s not necessarily needed. Especially in my work in the outdoors, we already have a lot of leaders in Outdoor Afro – SLC Network that know how to mountain bike, climb, fly fish, etc. So sometimes there are organizations that want to partner with us that maybe just want to get clout or say that they did something, and they just offer to teach us to do something when we already know how to do it. It’s usually the access that we’re in search of or the partnership with gear. We see that it’s coming from a good space, but isn’t super helpful. Don’t get us wrong – the majority of the times we can see that it is coming from a good space. We just want to work with you in ways that we actually need. Like in politics, many rules have been formed without everyone in the room – without women in the room. Listening is a great place to start, and moving to the side just a little bit would be great.
Nikki: I definitely agree with Ashley. If you look at a lot of the environmental organizations inside of climbing and the outdoors, look at the leadership. It’s almost exclusively white, the employees are almost exclusively straight white cis folks. So, the message is focused on that community, focused on the majority, stereotypical view. We need to include other voices. There are people that live next to the climbing areas like the Navajo Reservation and if that land gets taken away or mined or poisoned, their community and lives are affected. They have more at stake than we do as climbers, but we don’t include them. It’s just been more recently like with Bears Ears when we’ve actually started including indigenous groups in our advocacy. We leave out a lot of people. A lot of structure in nonprofit boards is that you have to be wealthy, you have to contribute a certain amount of money to be on the board. That’s not possible for a lot of people and the structures are still set up to discriminate. So, we have to start looking at the makeup of the board and the companies that are trying to do good and see who’s running them and who they’re speaking to, and we need to start changing that to include more voices. We need to have messaging and campaigns that include everyone. We’re all stakeholders in our world and outdoor areas.
What are some things that the average joe can do to help diversify climbing and outdoor communities?
Ashley: It doesn’t seem like Covid-19 is going anywhere and it doesn’t seem like Instagram is either (which is good because it’s lit right now). I highly suggest looking through your feed, there’s so many of us out there and it’s an absolutely beautiful feed. Have any of you ever seen #blackjoy? It’s gorgeous to see. Have you ever seen indigenous people really loving on themselves in the outdoors? It’ll make you cry! So, I highly suggest following Outdoor Afro – it’s a great organization that has been around for 10 years and are leaders in Outdoor narratives. Then see who Outdoor Afro is following. Latino Outdoors, Native Women Outdoors, Black Men Hike LA, We Color Outside, Wild Gina, Afro Mountains. Like I said, change what you’re ingesting and start uplifting these people’s voices.
I’m a city planner so one thing I look at is how your zip code affects your life – it can affect what diseases you may have, how young you may have a child, what your educational outcomes look like, if your kids will get asthma, how close you are to trails. Go to community council meetings and email your mayor with your thoughts – they like talking to you! So those are some things average joes can do, but I don’t really like saying “average joe,” you’re not average. Things like this institution wouldn’t be here if ya’ll weren’t here. So, you can honestly make it whatever you want.
Nikki: There are a lot of people on social media right now that are putting themselves out there to try to educate. Often, it’s just assumed that anyone from a marginalized group should educate others. Not everyone wants to spend their time educating people, and it shouldn’t be assumed. Find the people that are doing so and follow them to learn about their communities. Figure out how to support people that are already speaking up and getting horrible comments on social media for trying to advocate for themselves and their community. Let them give advice on how to lead.
Also, one of the things about trying to make the outdoors more diverse is assuming that it’s not. In 2018, the outdoor industry reported that more than 30% of people participating in outdoor sports were not white people. I go trail running a lot in the canyons around here, and almost 50% of the people I see when I go lately aren’t white. People of color, queer folks, people with disabilities, are already here and it’s already more diverse than you might think, but we’re not seeing that and we have to ask why? So, it goes back to pushing the companies that are advertising to show the diversity that already exists and support more growth.
I also saw friends after George Floyd was murdered that wanted to get involved and the first thing they talked about was creating their own organizations. Go to the organizations that already exist and are being led by people from that community and support them. Ask them what they need. Don’t assume you have the answer and can hop right in without knowing those communities. Get involved and listen to the leadership that’s already there.
Ashley: Another thing I want to add about things you can do to keep us safe. We interact on the trail or wherever we are, and there are people like the Amy Cooper in New York, who called the cops on a Black bird watcher in a park after he asked her to put her dog on a leash. People like Amy (or otherwise known as “Karens”) are detrimental to us. If you’re around when something like that is going down, stay there and be a witness. Make sure they get home safe. Don’t be too shy – you never know when that might save our life or when a video can be used as evidence.
What actions would you like to see the viewers take on after this panel is over?
Nikki: Just try to show your support. There are a lot of queer folks here. Last year The Front helped support a pride night and we had over 160 people show up. But there’s still people from the queer community and even myself, that don’t always feel comfortable coming into climbing gyms. Sometimes people are so focused on climbing and wanting to send their projects that they tune everyone out and don’t interact, but if you go out of your way to just smile or say hi to someone and welcome them or let them know you’re glad they’re there and you support them, that can go a long way. If someone goes into a new place and no one talks to them or says hi, they can feel really unwelcome, especially if they already have a hard time and get harassed by being in certain spaces, and they might not come back. So just something as simple as being friendly will encourage them to come back.
As a climber, you have to realize there’s a different set of rules in some ways for people in the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. When I take climbing trips to places like Ibex, we drive through rural Utah and see things like the confederate flag and other symbols that often come with hate and I start to get nervous. And then since we’re driving three hours, I’m worried because we have to stop to use the bathroom. Trans people can get attacked for just using the bathroom. My friends will often stand guard by the door or go in with me to make sure I don’t get jumped. When we go into restaurants, I get a seat where I can see the room and I don’t have my back to anybody. It’s simple things, but it’s asking the person that you’re with what’s going to make them feel more comfortable. Then, when we get to the crag, I’m already stressed out and I’m worried because we have to drive all the way back that night too. Everyone else might go to places like that and see those visible signs that are associated with hate and roll their eyes, but for some of us, we’re worried we’re going to be hurt. Also, ask people how they might want you to respond if someone says something transphobic or homophobic, because in some situations I may not want you to speak up because it could make things worse, but in other situations I would want you to stand up for me. Consistently check in and think about why people might feel uncomfortable going somewhere when you’ve never even thought about that before.
Ashley: That is so real. So real. I just got emotional right now. If you have any BIPOC friends in your circle or at work and you want to go out hiking or hang out with them more, definitely ask if there’s anything you can do to make them feel more physically safe, that’s a real concern. Don’t take it lightly. Being an African American person, we have a very different history with the outdoors. Sometimes when I talk to my elders, they’re surprised that I want to sleep outside and be outside. Outside hasn’t been good for us. Swimming and swimming pools hasn’t been good for us. Having that conversation about safety and supporting us is really important.
We also have 8 generations of wealth that we need to keep up with and catch up to that we haven’t had the access to get ahold of. Sometimes you get into conversations on the internet and people are like “slavery was 400 years ago”. Yes, but Jim Crow only ended 60 years ago. So ya’ll are giving us 60 years to catch up for 8 generations of wealth. So, I’m saying this to say, the holiday season is coming around and gift cards are available, even I have them and if you send them my way, I’ll give them to my crew! But that’s another thing to keep in mind… Living is expensive. Those climbing shoes right there, how much are those climbing shoes? Think about that.
Finally, these are difficult times for everyone. We are in the middle of a pandemic, a civil rights movement and a lot of people are becoming aware of many faults in our systems and institutions. I’ve personally had to learn a lot of self-compassion, have started therapy and am being more conscious of making healthy choices like eating healthy and getting outside. What steps are you taking to make self-care a priority during these times?
Nikki: I’ve been climbing for almost 30 years and for a long time I viewed it negatively. I’ve used it as a way to avoid of dealing with who I was, all the issues I might face when I transition. And as I’ve been transitioning, one of the things I’ve been doing is trying to go back to it being fun. Before, if I didn’t send my project, I’d be upset. I used to force myself to go out. Now, I try to take away that pressure. I’ve been enjoying trial running and doing a lot more of that now because it feels good. It’s important to listen to what your body needs and do what feels good. Sometimes you feel like, “I’m at my peak of climbing, I need to keep going,” but maybe your body is breaking down and you’re being too hard on yourself. Give your body a break and go back to things when you’re ready for it. Listen to yourself and focus on the things that are bringing joy at the moment and not forcing things you’re not quite ready for.
Ashley: For me, what self-care has turned into during Covid is definitely washing my hands. Wash your hands! Also, I‘m a mom. I have a toddler. I have to remind myself to seek my joy in being her mom and do things like take her on adventures.
Boundaries are also really important during Covid. I definitely would suggest you guys really think about boundaries. Whenever something is causing anxieties (like maybe Thanksgiving 2020 convos ), make sure you take some time to think about it.
Also, drink water! I’ve been focusing on my diet a lot because that can help your immune system, which is especially important right now. I’ve also been mindful and thankful that I have an able body and it does all the things I need it to do in a day. It’s beautiful just the way it is – appreciate what your body does for you!
Whether you attended this panel or just read this discussion, we hope you have some good actions steps for how to move forward. We will continue to push ourselves and our community to listen carefully to these voices and learn how to fight alongside those who have been unfairly oppressed for generations. Thank you, Ashley and Nikki!
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