Empowering Diversity in Outdoor Recreation at Lakehead University

Aseel Hashim, Master of Public Health candidate and graduate research assistant in the Department of Health Sciences, recently founded BIPOC Outdoor Adventures at Lakehead University with a generous $5,500 grant from the Thunder Bay Community Foundation.

This innovative program aims to enhance accessibility to outdoor recreation for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) students, addressing a need identified through a class research project demonstrating systemic barriers faced by BIPOC students in accessing outdoor spaces and activities.

“The research has consistently shown disparities in outdoor recreation participation rates among different racial and ethnic groups, with BIPOC individuals often experiencing limited access to outdoor environments due to various factors including socioeconomic status, historical marginalization, lack of representation and racism which has implications on overall mental and physical health,” Hashim says.

Her vision for the club is to foster community, break down systemic barriers, and create a space where every student feels empowered and welcomed to explore the outdoors.

The program was inspired by the BIPOC Outdoor Gear Library in Guelph, a space she was fortunate to engage with. “I saw and experienced firsthand the difference this program made in terms of access and fostering a comfortable and safe space for BIPOC folks to be in nature,” she says.

The substantial funding from the Community Foundation will fuel the program’s initiatives, allowing for excursions that promise unforgettable experiences and valuable opportunities for participants. Hashim says the program will also incorporate knowledge sharing to educate and prevent injuries in the outdoors.

“The support from the Community Foundation is pivotal in unlocking these opportunities for BIPOC students at Lakehead to enjoy affordable and accessible outdoor recreation,” she explains. “I am beyond happy that the Community Foundation recognizes the need and sees the vision of this initiative, and I am so excited to see what this initiative will become!”

“We are excited to be able to support the BIPOC Outdoor Adventures program at Lakehead as it will promote diversity, equity and inclusion in outdoor recreation opportunities that might not otherwise be accessible to those students,” explains Athena Kreiner, CEO of the Thunder Bay Community Foundation, who credits the Lakehead University Student Union for identifying the need and applying for the community grant. “I would also like to thank our donors that made this grant possible; they are creating a positive impact on the student experience at Lakehead University.”

Some of the outdoor adventures are being offered in partnership with the School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks & Tourism (ORPT). “We are excited to support the inclusion of BIPOC students in outdoor activities in the Thunder Bay region,” says Dr. Julie Rosenthal, Assistant Director of the School of ORPT. “The outdoors offers so many benefits for mental and physical wellness, social interaction, nature and cultural appreciation, and academic excellence. We are thrilled to have been invited to contribute to this initiative, which gives students studying ORPT an opportunity to share their passion for the outdoors with other students at Lakehead.”

Hashim would like to extend special thanks to Dr. Rosenthal and Dr. Leigh Potvin from ORPT, for their unwavering support and recognition of this initiative.

“With such dedicated allies and supporters, BIPOC Outdoor Adventures is poised to make a lasting impact and set a new standard for diversity and inclusion and promote mental and physical wellness by engaging in outdoor recreation at Lakehead.”