Kiki Kane-Owens was an undergraduate student at the University of Vermont when she started hearing about WRFI from friends who had completed WRFI courses. She appreciated that WRFI appeared to be more than just an outdoor program, and was especially drawn to WRFI courses’ focus on ethics and human relationships with the natural world. She was soon readying herself to spend the fall of 2017 in Montana, about to embark on a semester-long adventure with nine other students on WRFI’s Montana Afoot & Afloat course.
Kiki says the following of her WRFI experience: “I fondly look back on my WRFI trip as one of the most laughter- and wonder-filled experiences of my life—an experience that was both a paradigm-shifter and a conduit for personal growth. One of my biggest takeaways from WRFI was an understanding of the power of community and mutual experience. The inter-reliance that outdoor living and learning necessitates yields a really powerful sense of community, support, and love that I have used as a framework for community-building in my regular life. I think WRFI provided a reference for my ability to build community and relationships with those of different personal ideologies and cultural backgrounds.”
Kiki cites her WRFI course as a catalyst for completely changing her personal and professional trajectories. During her time in the field, discussions about the exclusivity of outdoor spaces in the U.S. brought the idea of outdoor inclusivity to the forefront of her mind. She cultivated tools for understanding the problematic lack of cultural, racial, economic, and geographic diversity on public lands and the outdoors in general, and she began to better understand her own feelings of exclusion from “outdoorsy” cultures. As a mixed-race woman from NYC, Kiki felt like WRFI gave her the tools to bridge certain gaps between her home communities and the communities she found within outdoor spaces. It became clear that it was extremely important for her to find ways of sharing the feelings of community, belonging, and self-sufficiency that come with outdoor living with people of all backgrounds.
As a recent college graduate, Kiki is just beginning to lean into a career focused on inclusivity in the outdoors. Earlier this year, she completed a NOLS Fellowship for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and is currently pursuing work in wilderness therapy, specifically focusing on neurodiversity in the outdoors. She is constantly examining the place she holds in outdoor spaces, and reassessing when it is appropriate for her to take up space. It is perpetual work, but she’s excited to continue these critical conversations!
Kiki will be a member of WRFI's DEI Advisory Committee in 2021. More information on this committee will be featured in future newsletters, but please feel free to email Mel at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in participating and/or learning more in the meantime.