FIRE creates outside recreation alternatives for BIPOC college students

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As Kamryn You Mak ‘23.5 sat in her Conversations with Environmental Icons class last spring, she began to feel sad and frustrated at the exclusivity and elitism that surrounds outdoor and environmental culture in Middlebury. You Mak decided to start Fostering Inclusive Recreation Experiences (FIRE), an organization dedicated to making outdoor recreation a more accessible and inclusive place for students of color.

FIRE started out as a sub-group of Middlebury Mountain Club but has since grown into an organization in its own right.

According to You Mak, FIRE’s mission is “to create a safe, supportive, outdoor community by and for Black, Indigenous and Colored people. FIRE’s goals are to engage people who have historically and currently been excluded from dominant outdoor and environmental culture, to increase representation on BIPOC’s Middlebury campus and to foster connections between people and nature.”

FIRE hosts a variety of different activities each semester. These activities include hiking, kayaking, weekly rock climbing affinity lessons, ski lessons, fishing and more.

Elise Chan ’24, another FIRE leader, said there was no cost associated with the events and transportation would be provided. No prior knowledge is required either.

“We just want people to show up with themselves and be willing to participate and have fun,” she said.

FIRE does not require anyone to have any knowledge of the outdoors, and the leaders always start with the basics. They provide the necessary equipment and explain the essence of the activity of the trip. In their newsletter, they also encourage their members to visit the gear room, where students can borrow outdoor gear for free to take advantage of the resources available to all students on campus.

“Outdoor recreation is often passed down from generation to generation, so knowledge is only shared in certain circles,” Chan said. This is why FIRE is so important to them – members can leverage the knowledge of their peers to help them learn more about outdoor recreation that would otherwise be more difficult due to the “risks associated with outdoor recreation”.

While many students in outdoor organizations have previous experience of the activities, for FIRE it is often the first time members have gone camping, hiking or kayaking.

You Mak and Chan warmly welcome students to join, whether they are interested in guiding trips, taking a trip, or looking for other ways to get involved. They are always looking for new members.

“My vision for FIRE is to create a self-sustaining and supportive community for students of color to become more confident in their place in environmental work and outdoor culture. I hope people can develop their skills and reach points where they have confidence in their own experience and leadership skills,” You Mak said.

Students can get involved by visiting go/bipocrec to visit their presence page and sign up for the newsletter. They also announce upcoming events on their Instagram @midd.fire.