We Outside! People of Color Outside creates opportunities for minorities to connect with the outdoors

Debo, brown bear and POCO mascot, stands in front of a POCO logo
Courtesy: People of Color Outside (POCO)

In a letter to the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) on Oct. 11, renowned route setter Tonde Katiyo, a Black Zimbabwean, announced his resignation from the organization, citing issues of systemic racism as the cause. His exit came after working for 11 IFSC events in the span of 14 years and organizing approximately 30 major climbing competitions in 15 countries.

Katiyo said that the IFSC had denied his experiences of racism from veteran members of the climbing teams while telling him to “keep his head down” instead of asking for better conditions and professional advancement in his field. Although Katiyo’s experience may seem quite far from the 5Cs, the issues of equity in outdoor spaces are not isolated from the experiences people of color face here in Claremont. During the 2023 spring semester, Hasana Parker PO ’25 and Mya Corral PO ’25 came together to create a space of inclusion for people of color on campus through People Of Color Outside (POCO).

Outdoorsmanship as a whole is characterized by monolithic whiteness and lack of representation. The Journal of Leisure Research found that African Americans and Hispanic Americans made up only 10 percent of all visitors of National Parks in 2021 despite making up 30 percent of America’s total population. Students in Claremont, such as Zora Beatty PO ’25, who grew up in Chicago, Illinois, explained this has affected their perceptions of selves in outdoor spaces.

“The predominance of white people in [outdoor] spaces made me feel as if I was wrong to be there,” Beatty said. “So I think that it’s important to have a space for people of color so that they know that they do belong in the outdoors — while disintegrating the potential for stigma.”

Beatty, who is POCO’s travel catering coordinator, said she hopes to combat the issues of racial equity through this new club. Parliament members in POCO meet to create fully planned trips — such as a recent stargazing event in Mt. Baldy — to introduce people of color to the outdoors while retaining a culture of inclusivity.

“[POCO] offers a safe, comfortable place for [people of color] to do something that’s already out of their comfort zone while [not feeling] that they are in a predominantly white group,” Chase Wade PZ ’26, POCO’s webmaster, said. “Going somewhere that they are completely unfamiliar with — that may create a lot of discomfort for people of color.”

Attending predominantly white institutions, co-founders Parker and Corral explored this inherent sense of exclusion when they founded the club. They address this in their mission statement: despite the strides made by diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at the 5Cs, racial minorities still need spaces made explicitly for and by them to feel safe and connected.

“There is a difference between a space making room for you, [and] that space being made for you,” wrote Parker and Corral. “Even at an institution like Pomona, this school was not built with the intention of having students of color go here.”

Although it was only founded last semester, the organization has already been successful finding funding and communicating with administration to support their cause. With five fully funded and supported trips already completed and five more planned before winter break, the club hopes to garner more membership across the 5Cs as the academic year continues.

Wade elaborated on the importance of building a relationship with administration.

“I think that the other 5Cs could be a little more supportive in terms of the resources that they give … Pitzer especially,” Wade said. “I also think that comes with getting more kids or students across the 5Cs involved in the club … hopefully as engagement grows with the club, we’ll also see an increase in the resources we get.”

According to Parker, each POCO trip aims to equip students of color with a feeling of safety outdoors and a new place to connect with their community.

“A lot of the trips that we do are very beginner-friendly, very beginner-focused,” Parker said. “So we would bring guides with us for a lot of the things we do and provide things like wilderness first aid training and teaching people how to build tents.”

Since POCO’s establishment, they have grown their leadership by creating the POCO parliament — a cabinet which includes teams for social media outreach, sign-up, trip leaders, financials, transportation and organizing food.

“POCO parliament came to be because I wanted the club to live on after I graduated,” Parker said. “It was a lot of work, and having someone who’s in charge of transportation, food and having trip leaders who are able to plan and lead so I don’t have to go on every trip.”

Corral and Parker said the expansion of POCO has allowed them to to plan twice as many trips and events as last year, with recent projects including swimming lessons, pool parties with the Pomona Latinx Student Alliance, trips in conjunction with the Young Men’s Collective and a collaborative effort with Pomona housing to take local high school students on a zoo trip.

With both founders looking to study abroad next semester, POCO will face its first semester under new leadership, and the Parliament is looking for new members, a greater reach throughout the 5Cs and more opportunities to say “We Outside.”

“[In POCO] I have been around people who look like me and enjoy the environment as much as I do,” Beatty said. “So I think that it’s important to have a space for people of color so that they know that they do belong in the outdoors — while disintegrating the potential for stigma.”

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