Outdoor Diversity: Conversations for a Revolution

Thao Nguyen worked for Outdoor Adventures between 2018 and 2020 while working on her degree in Studio Arts at UC Davis. During that time she worked as a guide for both the whitewater rafting, and sea kayaking programs, worked in the Rental Center, and was ultimately promoted to student manager of the water program. She graduated in June of 2020 but has continued to be a presence at Outdoor Adventures working on this article project as well as committing to co-chair our newly developed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force. 

This is article one of a four part series. New articles will be released throughout Fall quarter.


Outdoor Diversity: Conversations for a Revolution

By Thao Nguyen

The recent protests over police brutality and racial injustice this spring have prompted a national conversation about race and privilege in America. Here at Outdoor Adventures, we have decided to use this time of social awareness to look within, look at our own lack of diversity , as well as the lack of diversity in the outdoor recreation industry as a whole, and make changes to address this issue. As the first step in resolving the issues at hand, we have conducted a series of interviews with multiple outdoor personnel, both Outdoor Adventures guides and folks in the larger outdoor community. Through these, we hope to bring awareness to issues of privilege, race, diversity, and personal challenges in the outdoors.

First, let me introduce myself. I’m Thao, a Vietnamese immigrant, and I just graduated from UC Davis in June 2020. I have worked at Outdoor Adventures for about three years, in a few different roles: as a Rental Center staff, a sea kayak guide, a raft guide, and now as their Water Coordinator. Growing up in busy cities, like Saigon and San Francisco, allows me to appreciate the times I was able to go outside, to run wild like a child, to swim in the river, to walk on the beach, and to feel the wind flowing through my hair. These moments may be insignificant to some, but to me, they are cherished. They are my privilege: privilege of time, of money, of transportation, and of accessibility. Once again, these are seemingly little things, yet many people, especially those of color, do not have the same access to them.

When I first started as a Rental Center staff member, it already felt somewhat bizarre for me to be a part of an outdoor community, where not many people like myself are seen. Once I got promoted to being the Water Coordinator, it felt even more surreal for a Vietnamese girl to be a leader within a very white-dominated organization and community. While I feel incredibly proud and honored to be where I am, being who I am, I can’t help but feel somewhat guilty and uncomfortable. It should be a normal thing for more people of color to be where I am, but it’s not, and it’s upsetting. But what can one person do about this gigantic social issue? And where does this issue even stem from?

While I still am struggling to figure out the exact steps needed for change, I knew that the first step was to start talking to people. I want to talk to those who became guides and did climb that ladder in the outdoor industry, to understand the challenges and privilege involved in why more people of color don’t apply for outdoor leadership positions. At the very least, I hope to spark conversations between people and to draw attention to these problems. So, I reached out to the Outdoor Adventures community, their friends and family, as well as any other outdoor personnel I could find, in hope of starting this conversation. 

To make sure that these conversations lead to productive changes and other similar projects, Outdoor Adventures has formed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force. Our goal is to create change in our own community, and in time, the outdoor community as a whole. In the next few months, we will be publishing a series of articles based on the discussions in the interviews. These articles will include topics such as socio-economics, representation, accessibility, and privilege. I hope you’ll continue to follow our conversations and our journey in diversifying the outdoors, bringing us one step closer to true equality.

As part of this diversity initiative, we are working on being able to offer scholarships, for trips and guide training, to students of diverse backgrounds. If you are interested in donating to our Diversity Scholarship Fund, please go to our website.

For questions and/or comments, please fill out this Google Form. We will do our best to get back to you as soon as possible.

Thank you so much for your time.


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