José González, University alum and founder of Latino Outdoors, spoke in the Samuel T. Dana Building on Wednesday afternoon about the importance of cultural diversity in outdoor spaces. About 150 people attended the event, which the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium.

González began by sharing statistics from the Outdoor Industry Association on what percentages of communities of color show an interest in hiking. In the OIA report, 45 percent of the surveyed Hispanic population expressed interest in hiking, while only 19 percent of the surveyed Black population did. 

However, when individuals were asked if they were interested in walking outdoors, the percent of the Black population who showed interest rose to 55 percent. González explained the discrepancy comes from phrasing, saying that each question can be regarded differently depending on the cultural context.

“What is the difference between walking outdoors and hiking?” González said. “It comes down to what the space is that you are entering, where hiking has been defined as a specific activity and by who, wearing what, doing what, compared to walking outdoors.”

When he was still a student at the University, González said the School for Environment and Sustainability students frequently discussed whether communities of color cared about the environment. 

“Thankfully, we’ve moved on from this question,” González said. “It has changed from do (they care) to how.”

GreenLatinos, another coalition founded by González, focuses on policy work in Washington, D.C. According to González, the organization’s studies found that many populations of color expressed a greater level of concern about climate change than the overall population in America on issues such as reducing smog and increasing alternative energy sources.

González also discussed the concept of decolonization, noting people should be careful about how the term is used and what it is used for.

“For me, it is not a word I want to just throw around because I hear it and don’t quite understand it,” González said. “For example, ‘decolonize your school, decolonize your thinking, decolonize your syllabus, decolonize your diet.’ Let’s be careful how we use that because as important as our goals may be, if we are really arguing to decolonize something, what that means is give stolen land back.”

Ann Arbor resident Kelsey Dovicl said she does similar work to González and has collaborated with nonprofits in the past to provide intercultural and outdoor education to people from marginalized communities.

She expressed her concern for some of the outdoor conditions faced by people of marginalized identities, such as Roma people she worked with last year in Madrid, Spain.

“It was an interesting thing to look at because having a nomadic history there, their cultural group had a really unique and personal tie with the land, but then, having to see the contrast of that since most Roma in Madrid live in slums,” Dovicl said. “They are still camping out in the fields around the city.” 

Amanda Farthing, SEAS and Engineering graduate student, said González’s point about how nonprofits should prioritize making tangible, positive change fit with her experience working at the nonprofit The Rocky Mountain Institute.

“One key difference to me is that people I’ve worked with have been largely mission-driven and that definitely changes the work culture and the type of work that people are excited to do,” Farthing said. “It’s less about growth and more about what are the levers that we can turn to actually enact change.” 


Reporter Saini Kethireddy can be reached at


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