The wilderness school wants to make adventure education a more equitable and inclusive space.

The National Outdoor Leadership School this fall is launching seven new courses for people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community, with more courses rolling out next year.

The school recently worked with a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) consulting firm to better understand the needs of the affinity groups. One takeaway was offering non-binary gender options on course applications.

“With these new offerings, we seek to empower students through their connection to the outdoors," Education Director Liz Tuohy said. "We believe wilderness is an ideal place to explore identity and how to lead from your signature style. Our goal for these courses is to provide an opportunity to develop leadership styles in a setting that celebrates all identities and recognizes each person can lead effectively in their own way.”

In 1988, NOLS introduced women-only courses. Many other organizations have just begun women-specific programming. NOLS currently offers 11 courses for teens and adults who self-identify as women. The new courses will include trainings to grow leadership and outdoor skills.

Patricia Cameron, founder of Blackpackers, and a SNEWS and The Voice contributor, said she appreciated that NOLS offers scholarships, since some courses can cost around $4,000. While hosting her first Blackpackers camping trip in early August, she heard from some of the 31 participants that they feel more comfortable learning with people from their own culture.

"When you walk into a group and you already have a shared experience, it makes getting to know each other and the transfer of knowledge easier," Cameron said. It's why she started her Colorado-based company. 

Cameron also said it's valuable for affinity groups to have leadership opportunities. "As someone who's doing it, getting out into the outdoor industry and being a leader as a person of color is tough," she said. "It's one thing to know the outdoors, but it's a whole other thing to be a leader in the outdoors."

The entire suite of affinity courses NOLS will introduce between now and 2021 include: LGBTQ+ Canyonlands Backpacking Expedition, LGBTQ+ Southwest Climbing Expedition, Southwest Leaders of Color course, and People of Color Climbing Expedition.

Sea kayaking courses and Alaskan and Adirondack expeditions will launch in spring 2020 and fall 2021. A Baja Coastal Sailing course for people of color is launching in spring 2021.

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