June 2020 Newsletter

Like many of you, we’ve spent the past two weeks listening, reflecting, grieving, and joining in solidarity in a myriad of ways with the BIPOC community. The history of systemic racism and oppression in our country is real, and shameful. The long list of black Americans who have been murdered because of the color of their skin is beyond reprehensible. We can and MUST do better as individuals, as communities, and as a society. 

We realize that, as an educational institution, the Wild Rockies Field Institute has an important role to play as an ally organization. Our mission of “offering field courses that develop engaged, informed citizens and strong leaders capable of addressing complex social and environmental issues” requires diversity, equity, and inclusion of all people. 

In order to achieve this mission and truly engage in critical thinking about the world we inhabit, we MUST
acknowledge that we are participants in an outdoor industry that has historically served an overwhelmingly privileged—white, straight, cisgender, male—population. We pledge to continue learning, promoting more diverse representation, and doing what we can to close the equity gap in outdoor education.

For those looking to make a difference, we encourage the following actions:

  1. Vote. This is the single most important thing we can do to begin dismantling oppressive systems and change policies at the local, state, and federal levels. 
  2. Call your local, state, and federal representatives. Let them know which policies and what type of legislation you would like them to support. Remember that they represent you--even if you didn't vote for them--and it is their job to listen to you.
  3. Educate yourself and others. Start with the following book recommendations: How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors by Carolyn Finney.
  4. Support and amplify the voices of organizations working for increased representation and diversity in the outdoors, such as Outdoor Afro, Diversify Outdoors, Wild Diversity, The Black Outdoors, Melanin Basecamp, Latino Outdoors, Native Womens Wilderness, and Natives Outdoors
  5. Make a financial contribution to organizations working on the front lines of racial justice. Here in Montana, we suggest supporting the following groups: Montana Racial Equity Project (MTREP), Black Student Union at MSU (Venmo @BSUatMSU), and UM Black Student Union (indicate "Black Student Union" in comments section). Do your research on who is taking the lead in your local community and put your money behind them. 

This is just the beginning. Positive change starts with every single one of us. WRFI promises to back our statements of commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion with continued action, advocacy, and accountability. 

In community and solidarity,
Keri McWilliams
Executive Director
Wild Rockies Field Institute
2020 Field Season Updates
Still accepting MT Afoot & Afloat applications!

WRFI recently made the decision to suspend our Fall 2020 Colorado Plateau course in response to the continuing COVID-19 crisis in many indigenous and other rural communities we visit and learn from on the Colorado Plateau.

However, with COVID-19 concerns stabilizing in the state of Montana, we are hopeful that we will be able to implement our 2020 Montana Afoot & Afloat course with appropriate risk management strategies. We will continue accepting applications for our Montana Afoot & Afloat 2020 fall semester until June 17, 2020 .

We encourage students who are eager for a college field experience to take advantage of this season's waived application fee. It is currently FREE to apply for all of our 2021 courses , as well as our 2020 Montana Afoot & Afloat course. 
For Montana Afoot & Afloat students

Students enrolled in Montana Afoot & Afloat may apply for a Matt Thomas Scholarship, which ranges in funding from $1,000 to $3,000.

Matt Thomas was a key member of WRFI's board and staff from the organization’s inception. He was our founding vice-president, an extremely dedicated instructor, and an inspiration for many of us. Matt passed away suddenly from natural causes in 2002.The Matt Thomas Scholarship Fund was established by Matt’s friends and family in memory of Matt and his commitment to place-based education.

Each year, the  Matt Thomas Scholarship Fund grants merit-based scholarships to students who clearly embody Matt’s ideals and visions. As an instructor, Matt encouraged his students to consider human/land relationships from multiple cultural and historical perspectives, and to develop personal philosophies for living well with the land. In his personal life, Matt was dedicated to local politics, environmental and river advocacy, and the study of eco-feminism and sustainable human/land relations.
To apply for the Matt Thomas Scholarship, please submit your application and essay answers  by June 17, 2020 .
Job opportunities and trainings for WRFI alumni

Celebrating LGBTQIA pride and the history of LGBTQIA rights advocacy in the U.S.

June is National Pride Month! In honor of the continued fight for LGBTQIA rights and representation, we encourage you to check out the following organizations working to expand opportunities and representation for the LGBTQIA community in the outdoors:

Opportunities to help friends of WRFI

As the global coronavirus pandemic continues, we will continue to share information about funds and resources dedicated to supporting communities in need. For those wanting to contribute to relief funds for indigenous communities in some the areas that WRFI courses visit, we encourage you to check out the following links:

Blackfeet Food Access and Sustainability Team (Blackfeet FAST) :

Yellow Bird Life Ways Center:

Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund:

During a tough season of course cancellations, we've been doing our best to stay on top of the issues we would otherwise be studying in the field. For all those students who didn't get a chance to join us in the field this year (and for anyone else who wants to remain informed on place-based issues in the West), we recommend checking out the following news sources:

We are also committed to furthering our understanding of the legacies of white supremacy and pervasive inequities that continue to infuse the activities we participate in and the spaces we occupy. We recommend the following articles to begin conversations on race and equity in the outdoors:

" The Racist Gatekeepers of American Land " by Nick Martin (The New Republic)
" Being 'Outdoorsy' When You're Black or Brown " by Leah Donella (Code Switch Podcast)
...and these older pieces by Dr. J. Drew Lanham that should really start making the rounds again: " 9 Rules for the Black Birdwatcher " (Orion Magazine) and " Birding While Black " (Literary Hub). Actually, just go ahead and read everything Dr. Lanham has ever written.
Check out our WRFI goods

Our online store is always open. Visit the WRFI website to browse our collection of WRFI-branded shirts, hoodies, hats, tumblers, and more.

Dr. Libby Metcalf's research on COVID-19 impacts to outdoor recreation in Missoula
UM researchers Jennifer Thomsen (left) and Libby Metcalf (right) study how Missoula trails and outdoor spaces are being used during the pandemic ( https://news.umt.edu/2020/05/051920trai.php ).
WRFI is thrilled to have Dr. Libby Metcalf , Associate Professor of Recreation & Natural Resource Management at the University of Montana, as our current Board President. Libby is a scholar of complex social-ecological systems, an avid outdoor enthusiast, and an advocate of place-based field education. Along with fellow UM professor and social science researcher Dr. Jennifer Thomsen, Libby has recently begun a project that attempts to quantify how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the use of Missoula's public outdoor spaces.

Read more about Libby's research questions, along with some of the project's preliminary results, on the University of Montana's News Page .
Wild Rockies Field Institute is a 501(c)3 organization. Your gift is fully tax deductible. Our Federal Identification Number is 81-0487425.