Alumna Seeks to Diversify Outdoor Recreation

Alice Jasper (Kevin Huver photo for "Grand Rapids Magazine").

Northern Michigan University alumna Alice Lyn Jasper is committed to diversifying outdoor recreation and environmental advocacy by identifying barriers and opportunities for people of color to develop positive relationships with nature. The Grand Rapids resident produced a related documentary titled Color Out Here for WGVU Public Media's Shaping Narratives program. She screened it at the Fresh Coast Film Festival in Marquette Oct. 16 and 17.

A description of the Color Out Here episode states that it stars Jasper and a group of friends and colleagues who take a trip to Idlewild, Mich., a historic lakeside resort town where black people were allowed to purchase property and engage in recreational activities before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They go canoeing, attend a music festival, sleep beneath the stars and confront their personal relationships with the outdoors.

During an interview in Marquette earlier this year, prior to a group ice-climbing expedition led by NMU alumnus Bill Thompson of Down Wind Sports, Jasper discussed the video project. She said it highlights the intersection of inclusion and safety—two qualities essential to ensuring that the outdoors is equally welcoming and enjoyable for everyone.

“It's not as simple as telling people to go outside and ignore the fact you won't cross paths with many who look like you,” Jasper added. “Some of the barriers are rooted in history. For example, our national parks and leading conservationists once deliberately excluded people of color. And my father lived through Jim Crow and learned that if you are black and go into the woods, you might not come back. There is transgenerational trauma based on first-hand experiences or passing fears on to kids and grandkids.

“There's also a lack of representation in advertising. Most gear and apparel brands market outdoor activities as things white people do, based on the images used in advertising and promotion. That influences the perceptions of people of color as to whether they ‘belong' in that context.”

Jasper said another challenge is that society's prescribed notion of what it means to be “outdoorsy” is often associated with extreme adventures, such as long-haul backpacking trips through the wilderness.

“We need to redefine outdoor recreation by building our own relationships with nature. It might be a poet finding a peaceful refuge to write about her experience as a black woman, or someone taking a walk or bike ride through a local park. It can be simple pleasures, not intensive, physically demanding activities that require a lot of gear. The cost of gear and transportation to activities creates another barrier—a financial one.”

Jasper grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she took hikes at a park with her dad and occasionally camped on weekends. Relocating to NMU presented more opportunities to immerse herself in nature. She earned a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in psychology from Northern in 2012. 

“Students I was friends with here would take me out in the woods and I learned that camping, hunting, fishing and gardening are a big part of U.P. culture,” Jasper said. “As a woman of color from the big city who was relatively inexperienced at outdoor recreation and unfamiliar with all of the gear and technical skills, I must admit I felt like an outsider at times. My mother is white and, even being lighter-complected, I didn't always feel I belonged. But at NMU, I learned how much I love the outdoors, and I'm trying to share that with others.”

An opportunity to advance that goal surfaced in the form of WGVU's Shaping Narratives program. She was able to produce and host the Color Out Here TV show. It will be shows at the Fresh Coast Film Festival at noon Saturday, Oct. 16, and Sunday, Oct. 17. See the full schedule here.

The environment also factors into Jasper's full-time work. Jasper is the program manager for Local First's Good for Michigan Program, which provides the tools and technical assistance for companies to measure and improve their social and environmental sustainability practices. She also serves on the West Michigan Action Council committee charged with bringing people together from underrepresented communities to tackle environmental justice issues that tend to disproportionately affect marginalized groups.

Read a Grand Rapids Magazine profile on Jasper here

Prepared By

Kristi Evans
News Director

Categories: Alumni, Around NMU