SUNY Potsdam’s wilderness education program
aims to improve participation for students of color
By Sierra McGivney
The wilderness education program at SUNY Potsdam is hosting a fundraiser, the Wilderness Education Access Initiative, to help students who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC) pay out-of-tuition fees required for the program.
The wilderness education program prepares students to become outdoor leaders and educators. Students can take classes on topics such as rock climbing, backpacking and leadership. SUNY Potsdam’s location north of the Adirondack Park gives students the opportunity to learn hands-on in the Adirondacks.
Adam Smith, a graduate student and adjunct instructor for the wilderness education program, is helping to promote the fundraiser via Instagram and other social media outlets. Smith teaches some of the rock climbing and backpacking classes SUNY Potsdam offers.
“We just see a need for, or lack of, participation among BIPOC students in our program, definitely, and in the outdoor community as a whole,” said Smith. “There is a huge participation gap.”
BIPOC students are underrepresented in the wilderness education program. There are an average of 31% BIPOC students on campus and maybe only one BIPOC student in the program at a time.
The lack of BIPOC students in the wilderness education program is due to a number of issues. Economic inequality, racial discrimination, and the ongoing diversity gap in the outdoor community are all factors. At SUNY Potsdam, a big factor is the program’s costs. Tuition does not cover the cost of travel, equipment, food and certifications needed for the wilderness education field classes.
The Wilderness Education Access Initiative fundraiser aims to offer equal access to wilderness courses and field experiences by providing as many BIPOC students as possible with the financial resources to cover some or all program costs.
“This is a chance to remove some of those barriers and get them into the program,” said Smith.
Alaine Diane Dochylo, a 2017 SUNY Potsdam wilderness education alumni, said this initiative will help ensure access for students who don’t have the extra funds needed for gear and equipment.
“I think you have a 18, 19, 20 year old coming from the inner city and maybe not having the funds to pay for a winter expedition course where they spend five days in the high peaks of the Adirondacks,” she said. “As an alumni I am pleased to see this, it’s very progressive and so necessary.”
Wilderness Education Coordinator Adam E. Wheeler is working with SUNY Potsdam’s Center for Diversity and alumni to help promote the fundraiser. For example, Neishja Ransom, a 2017 alumna, was featured on the wilderness education program’s Instagram page explaining her experience with the program and asking people to consider donating.
With less than 10 days left, the fundraiser has already hit their goal. They are still accepting donations for the initiative. Smith hopes that this will open up a more sustained effort to get funding for BIPOC students from the wider Adirondack North Country region.
For more information about the wilderness program, visit: https://www.potsdam.edu/academics/SOEPS/department-public-health-and-human-performance/minor-wilderness-education
If you are interested in donating, visit: https://www.givecampus.com/schools/SUNYPotsdam/wilderness-education-access-initiative#updates