When fourth-year hydrologic sciences major Ivan Gonzalez first came to UC Santa Barbara, he said he was excited to have easy access to outdoor activities like surfing and hiking, but he started to notice that the environmental spaces that he loved were not very diverse.
“I felt like a black sheep,” he said. “The surfing community can be very tight-knit and territorial. I didn’t feel seen there.”
Gonzalez said he wanted to find a way for all students to have access to the outdoors regardless of economic, social and structural barriers, so he created Making Adventure Possible for All Students, known around campus as MAPAS.
MAPAS, established in November 2017, is a club dedicated to diversifying the outdoors and fostering stewardship for the environment, Gonzalez said. He founded the organization with the intention of creating a welcoming community and increasing opportunities for marginalized groups to experience outdoor adventures.
Outdoor activities tend to be homogenous and exclude underrepresented groups, Gonzalez said. Outdoor gear is expensive and purchasing the equipment required to participate in adventures is not feasible for some students, he added.
Gonzalez said he does not believe that the outdoor community intentionally excludes marginalized groups, but that there are structural factors that can limit access to these spaces, and it is important to recognize and address those factors.
“People’s parents have to work, they don’t have access to the outdoors, maybe they live in cities,” Gonzalez pointed out. He also noted the lack of public transit to natural spaces, such as national parks, as a further limitation on who is able to visit those spaces.
While he acknowledged groups who aim to make adventuring more affordable for students, like UCSB Adventure Programs and Excursion Club, Gonzalez said MAPAS was created to address a deeper problem.
“UCSB has really robust opportunities for adventure,” MAPAS Outdoors Chair and fifth-year psychology major Phoebe Rogers said. “At first glance, it’s easy to see the barrier just being a paywall, but it’s more than that for us. MAPAS is trying to carve a space where people of color and people from diverse backgrounds feel like the space was made for them.”
The idea for an all-inclusive outdoor community club first came to Gonzalez from a surfing trip. While out on the water one morning, Gonzalez said an exchange student from Mexico paddled up to him and they immediately connected with one another through sharing tips and stories about surfing.
“He looked like me,” Gonzalez said. “I remember thinking, ‘Is this how everyone else feels? Is this how it always feels to have a community out here?’”
To hold onto that feeling and to encourage more diversity in the surfing community, Gonzalez had the idea to create a Latinx surfing team. But after a while, he decided he wanted the club to include all outdoor activities, not just surfing.
In addition to breaking the opportunity gap and diversifying the outdoors, Gonzalez said he wanted to bring people into the outdoors to foster greater environmental stewardship, further the conversation of environmental justice and raise awareness of the inequitable environmental burdens people of color and low-income communities experience.
“I care about environmental issues. I’m in love with the outdoors; why wouldn’t I want to take care of it?” Gonzalez said.
After recruiting others who were passionate about this issue, Gonzalez said MAPAS secured funding from faculty and community members through a GoFundMe and applied for grants through the UCSB Healthy Campus Network. MAPAS uses these funds to purchase and rent outdoor gear, purchase food, campsites and permits, he said.
So far, MAPAS has organized several hikes, kayaking trips, climbing events and volunteer restoration projects as well as a backpacking trip to Big Sur. MAPAS also hosts potlucks for its members to foster a sense of community and create opportunities for connection, which Rogers said is the ultimate goal of the organization.
“It’s clear to see what kind of community we are building, and how different that feels compared to other spaces on campus,” Rogers said.
“All of our events feel really familial, and it’s different when you have an intention and a purpose coming together. There’s more of an energy to it,” she added.
Going forward, Rogers said MAPAS has plans to continue with its “Demystifying Backpacking” workshop series to share information about backpacking. In the workshop, more experienced MAPAS members get together with first-time backpackers to break down and explain everything one needs to know about backpacking, from what gear to bring to how to purify water to what to do about going to the bathroom.
MAPAS also has plans to include professors in its trips to break down the “student-faculty ivory tower barrier,” Rogers said. By going on a hike with a professor, Gonzalez hopes that students can make connections with faculty outside of the classroom and learn about different research and academic opportunities.
Gonzalez hopes MAPAS will be an inspiration for other UCs to create their own version of the club and eventually have a widespread community that encourages diversity in the outdoors across different campuses.
“MAPAS aims to address the lack of diversity in outdoor spaces and bring more people into the conversation,” Gonzalez said.
“Our intention is to be a launchpad,” Rogers said. “Our goal is for our members to build the skills so that they feel comfortable putting themselves into outdoor spaces and breaking down the barriers together so that those spaces don’t feel so intimidating and closed off.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the Feb. 13, 2020 print edition of the Daily Nexus.