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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

FIRE creates outdoor recreation opportunities for BIPOC students

The first FIRE kayaking trip visits Lake Dunmore for a sunset paddle in fall 2021. (Courtesy of Kamryn You Mak)
The first FIRE kayaking trip visits Lake Dunmore for a sunset paddle in fall 2021. (Courtesy of Kamryn You Mak)

While sitting in her Conversations with Environmental Icons class last spring, Kamryn You Mak ’23.5 began to feel sad and frustrated with the exclusivity and elitism surrounding outdoor and environmental culture at Middlebury. You Mak decided to create Fostering Inclusive Recreation Experiences (FIRE), an organization dedicated to making outdoor recreation a more accessible and inclusive space for students of color.

FIRE first began as a subgroup of Middlebury Mountain Club but has since branched out into its own organization. 

According to You Mak, FIRE’s mission is to “create a safe, supportive community of and for black, indigenous, and people of color outdoor recreators. FIRE’s goals are to engage people who have been historically and presently excluded from dominant outdoor and environmental culture, increase representation on Middlebury’s campus of BIPOC recreation and foster connections between people and the natural world.”

FIRE hosts a variety of different activities every semester. These activities include hikes, kayak trips, weekly climbing affinity hours, ski lessons, fishing and more. 

Elise Chan ’24, another FIRE leader, said that there is no cost associated with events and transportation is provided. There is also no experience required. 

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

FIRE does not assume anyone’s level of outdoor knowledge, and leaders always start with the basics. They provide the necessary equipment and explain the essentials 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 utilize the resources available to all students on campus. 

“Outdoor recreation is something that is often passed down from generation to generation, so the knowledge is only being shared in certain circles,” Chan said. This, for her, is why FIRE is so important — members are able to use their peers’ knowledge to help them learn more about outdoor recreation, something that would otherwise be harder because of the “inherent risks that come with outdoor recreation.”

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

You Mak and Chan welcome students to join whether they are interested in leading trips, going on 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 are confident 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

Sabrina Salam

Sabrina Salam '24 (she/her) is a Copy Editor.

She previously served as a Staff Writer. Sabrina spent this past spring semester studying abroad in Spain. This summer she interned as a Legal Intern at Verizon's headquarter in New Jersey.

Sabrina is studying International & Global Studies with a focus in Global Security. She is also a Peer Career Advisor at the Center for Careers and Internships and a DJ for WRMC Middlebury College Radio.