Isabella Bovee ’24

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Belonging in the Outdoors

originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of Sagatagan Seasons

The transition from high school to college is a right of passage for many. It’s a transition towards independence, personal growth, and at CSB/SJU “empowering you to ask and answer wicked questions.” My transition began in 2020, amid a global pandemic and a national reckoning with racial justice, causing me to reflect on both the challenges and opportunities of this time.

As a college student, I understand the struggle of balancing school with work and a new social life. College is a planned “upending” of normal life. And COVID-19 is the unplanned wrinkle challenging my college plans. At such a pivotal time in my life, things have been nothing short of hectic.

Growing up, it was normal for me to go on Sunday bike rides around Lake Nokomis with my family. Getting to explore the many trails around the lakes of Minneapolis, just a few blocks from my childhood home, are among my most cherished memories. Being in such proximity to the trails and having access to bikes and hammocks and other opportunities made learning to love the outdoors so effortless. I’ve always appreciated the ability to use the natural world as a place of joy, recreation, healing, and community but it’s only recently I’ve come to realize my privilege in having that resource at my disposal.

Living at CSB/SJU I continue to have ready access to trails and natural spaces. There are still days where I realize I hardly went outside the whole day (hello Zoom meetings!), but the days I do find the time to get outside, that fresh air has proven incredibly beneficial to my mood, my focus, and my overall health. This is true under normal conditions, but even more so now that interactions with others is so limited. And having access to safe outdoor spaces not only relieves stress but is one of the most pandemic-friendly ways to get some of those much-needed human interactions.

My experiences outdoors have also given me a chance to reflect on some of those big “wicked questions” I’m meant to embrace. How do we make the outdoors accessible to all? Does access to nature make healthier communities? What barriers – economic, education, accessibility, race – do people different from me face in getting outside? Can we learn from our COVID-19 adaptations to improve accessibility to the outdoors for more communities?

I have always been accustomed to having access to outdoor experiences with very few obstacles to overcome. I have also grown to recognize how socio-economic and racial privilege have played a role in the opportunities I’ve had. This is not something I regret. On the contrary, it inspires me to make the effort to dismantle barriers and create bridges and pathways that give others exposure to all the beauty and glory of the natural world as readily as I have had.

With the chaos that comes with life as a college student (or as a human, really), the ability to spend as much time outdoors as possible is invaluable. Choosing to acknowledge my own privilege – and revel in the opportunities it has given me – while actively building a road to equality is well worth it for the betterment of people everywhere. I can’t pretend to have any wicked answers to the big questions we face but getting outside is probably a good place to start looking.