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Outdoor Advice + Tips: With Liberty and Adventure for All . . .

By Contributing Writer Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, Faculty member and Diversity & Inclusion Manager at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)

As I head to the 2012 Winter Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, where NOLS is receiving an Outdoor Inspiration Award for inspiring youth everywhere to pursue an education through a NOLS adventure, I am pondering what “adventure” really means, and what makes someone an “adventurer.”

When you think of “adventurer,” what do you picture? Me? I admit, I think of the image of a rugged leathery-faced mountain man in an old-timey wool cable-knit sweater, pocketed vest, and a canvas satchel replete with important adventure tools like a sextant, a treasure map, and a pistol. Clint Eastwood maybe? Or Harrison Ford? Oh, and he’s smoking a pipe.

What I don’t picture is the photo above. Yeah, that’s me on an adventure—35 days in the Wind River Range with NOLS. And I am pretty much the opposite of Clint Eastwood. I’m not leathery faced, although with age and exposure to the elements I’m definitely headed that way. But more important, I’m not white. And I’m not a man.

So why is it that so many of us think of white men when we think about adventure? Is it Hollywood movies, which revolve around the swashbuckling pursuits of Indiana Jones? Is it our history books, which talk about the heroic deeds of Earnest Shackelton?

Alas, I don’t think we have anybody but ourselves to blame for the fact that we typically associate adventure with privilege.

Well, I’m here to say, “hey everyone, let’s rethink the connection between adventure and privilege!” Literally. That’s what I get paid to do. Besides instructing NOLS students in the field, my job title at NOLS is “Diversity & Inclusion Manager.” I work toward expanding opportunities for a more diverse group of people to take on the adventure of a NOLS course, and ultimately, pursue a career in the outdoors.

It’s a tough undertaking, inspiring young people with a wide range of life experiences, cultures, beliefs, values, religions, and financial situations to go on an adventure. It’s even tougher convincing these young people that they can make a living in adventure.

Face it, it will take a major paradigm shift to be able to see “adventure” as more than just gallivanting around the world finding lost treasure. But maybe . . . just maybe pointing out some role models can get us part way there. So, here goes:

Shelton Johnson is a ranger with the National Park Service (he recently took Oprah on a tour of Yosemite!). Shelton is Black. And he is an Adventurer. Dr. Nina Roberts is a professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism at San Francisco State University and Director of the Pacific Leadership Institute. Nina is multiracial. And she is an adventurer. Juan Martinez works with the White House and the Department of Interior on America’s Great Outdoor initiative, getting more American families out into nature. He’s Hispanic. And he’s an adventurer. M. Sanjayan is the lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy, where he specializes in human welfare and conservation. He’s South Asian Indian. And he’s an adventurer. Jimmy Chin is a renowned adventure photographer and filmmaker whose work has been featured in Outside magazine, National Geographic, and the Banff Mountain Film Festival. He’s Asian. And he’s an adventurer.

And then there’s me. I’m not famous, but I am working on it! I’m a field instructor and the Diversity and Inclusion Manager at NOLS. I’m South Asian and a woman. And I’m an adventurer.