Mountaineering Film at Bowdoin Addresses Race and the Outdoors

The first event at Bowdoin in celebration of Black History Month featured ice picks, freezing gales at high altitudes, and dangerous snow squalls.

The Bowdoin Outing Club, Student Center for Multicultural Life, and Student Activities teamed up on Thursday evening to bring two groundbreaking mountaineers to Bowdoin, Scott Briscoe and Tyrhee Moore. The two screened and discussed their 2014 documentary, An American Ascent. 

With a team of nine climbers, Briscoe and Moore were part of the first African American team to summit North America’s highest peak, Denali, in Alaska. Not only does their documentary depict an exciting adventure, it also addresses an important issue: the lack of diversity in the outdoors.

Aisha Rickford ’20, who is an expedition leader with the Bowdoin Outing Club, attended the screening and said she appreciated the intention of the movie to inspire people of color to consider the outdoors a place for them. “I think it is an important movie to show at Bowdoin because we have this active outing club, and it is majority white, and majority able-bodied…and there is this stigma of people of color not doing outdoor activities,” she said.

The movie, she added, reinforced the message that “the outdoors is everybody’s space, and the growth you get from being in the outdoors belongs to everybody.”

Darius Riley ’19, also an Outing Club expedition leader, said he found the film inspiring because it encourages students of color to step outside of where they are comfortable and to challenge themselves. “For a black student like me to come to a predominantly white institution in a state that is 95 percent white is already a huge step out of my comfort zone,” he said, and the film reinforces the importance of continuing to push himself.

Riley noted, additionally, that the film is also helpful for white students to watch. “It’s important to screen this film because it makes black and white students recognize elements of their counterparts’ perspectives. White students who may be privileged enough to take advantage of these spaces are made aware of the absence of minorities in these outdoor spaces.”

Because, ultimately, it is not just white people who are faced with and must grapple with daunting environmental challenges. “This film encourages students of every race, creed, and color to take care of these sacred spaces” in nature, Riley said.

The Bowdoin Outing Club has worked to foster a more inclusive environment by developing a program, called Out of the Zone Leadership Training (or OZ-LT), to increase the diversity of student leadership in the club.

Anna Bastidas, assistant director at the Outing Club, said movies like An American Ascent can help make people—no matter their race or background—feel more comfortable in the outdoors.

“There is not a lot of diversity in the outdoors. That’s not to say that it isn’t there, but it is not highlighted in how the outdoors is presented,” she said. “So we were really excited to bring Scott and Tyrhee to Bowdoin to share their story about how they got into the outdoors and their story of Denali.”

2 thoughts on “Mountaineering Film at Bowdoin Addresses Race and the Outdoors

  1. Stephen Chisholm

    Charley Townsend and Cito Selinger (class of1981) would no doubt say, this is a solid step forward on important ground.

    Steve Chisholm,’81

  2. Tyler Micoleau, '91

    Really valuable message and perspective. Thank you for the article. I didn’t know about this documentary. I’m going to buy it on iTunes.

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