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USC outdoors club for black students to combat ‘stigma,’ ‘racism’ in nature

Student: Trees may remind African Americans of lynching, slavery

Through nature hikes, camping, yoga, gardening and more, a new student organization at the University of Southern California says it’s working to dismantle “environmental racism” for the black community.

The new Woodlums outdoors group was created by black students for black students to foster a greater appreciation of nature and break down “stigma,” according to Annenberg Media, a student-led news outlet at the university.

“I just think that, especially when we take a look at how nature has been associated with Black people in the past, especially in America, I think it’s important for us to understand how to rebuild it and…release a lot of stigmas that we might still have around it,” USC senior Caleb Flenoury said.

USC Woodlums black outdoor club

IMAGE: USC Woodlums/Instagram

A member of Woodlums, Flenoury said nature sometimes can be associated with slavery and “Black people hanging from trees.”

That is where Woodlums comes in. The student organization, which began last year, works to “address the individual and communal, mental and bodily harms of environmental racism by organizing nature-focused activities and trips for Black students on campus,” according to its Instagram account.

The name of the group is a play on the word “hoodlums,” student co-founder Nia McMillan told the Daily Trojan student newspaper.

She and Taylor-Corrine Benton, co-founder and acting vice president, said black Americans have less access to nature because of “systemic racism,” and they want to change that.

“We’re not going to end environmental racism, but we are doing our part in dismantling it by taking Black people, especially Black kids … out on restorative and nature-based outings, because that’s the first thing you can do,” Benton told Annenberg Media.

Benton said the problem really struck her when she noticed “how often” black children responded with “the adage of ‘that’s white people s—’” when asked about hiking and spending time outdoors.

To encourage a more positive view of nature, Woodlums leaders have hosted yoga sessions, a bonfire on the beach, nature hikes, picnics, gardening and other activities to encourage “community building, healing, self sufficiency and kinship with earthly co-inhabitants,” according to the organization.

Flenoury said one of his favorite activities so far was a rolling workshop where they learned to roll tea and weed and learned about the health benefits of teas, Annenberg Media reports.

He said experiencing nature can be healing in and of itself, too.

“It’s the ultimate calmness, just feeling as a part of nature, feeling like a tree, like my leaves are like my thoughts, you just let them fall when they can,” Flenoury said. “You can’t really rip them off. You just let the wind take them.”

In recent years, academics have connected similar activities to racism, including running and other physical fitness. Recently, the University of Nevada Las Vegas law school’s Environmental Law Society renamed a “picnic” event to “Lunch by the Lake” after the word raised “diversity and inclusion” concerns, The College Fix reported last week.

MORE: ‘White supremacy’ embedded in history of exercise: professor

IMAGE: Main image – Vulcano/Shutterstock;  Inside image – USC Woodlums/Instagram

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.