Inspiring Inclusion Through Sharing Our Cultural Stories: José González at NOLS Faculty Summit

By Molly Herber

May 8, 2015

NOLS has spent most of the last week learning and growing during the 5th Annual Faculty Summit. The summit provides talks and workshops aimed at instructor development to keep our ideas fresh and support excellent student experiences. Workshop topics ranged from risk management to student paperwork to NOLS history. Speakers included NOLS Executive Director John Gans, longtime NOLS faculty, the keynote speaker and author of Apocalyptic Planet Craig Childs, and, to conclude the summit, founder of Latino Outdoors José González.

José González discusses the power of storytelling and leadership at the 2015 Faculty Summit. Photo by Brad Christensen.

Latino Outdoors focuses on developing leaders and building connections between Latino individuals and communities and the outdoors. At a time when NOLS is putting a tremendous amount of energy into fostering an inclusive environment for all students, thinking carefully about the way we recognize that individuals’ differences impact our relationship to the wilderness, this speech had a special impact.

González’s talk was entitled “Yo cuento.” The phrase means both “I tell a story” and “I count,” and captures his experience with the importance of telling stories to give voice and meaning to people and their experiences.

For González, remembering old stories that may have been left out of dominant narratives is an important aspect of getting passionate people into the outdoors today.

He talked of the way Latino interest in the outdoors is often portrayed as “new,” when the reality is that Latinos have a long history of sustainability. The Aztecs, for example, were what he called a “zero waste society.” Through developing leaders, González sees an opportunity to add voices to enrich the incomplete historical narratives and to continue adding to the stories being written today. This storytelling affirms community and affirms belonging. 

Jose Gonzalea with John Gans José González with NOLS Executive Director John Gans. Photo by Brad Christensen.

Building competent leaders is where Latino Outdoors and NOLS come together. González uses the term “ambicultural liderazgo” to describe individuals who are members of multiple cultures. These individuals can leverage their multicultural experience to serve as leaders, bridges, and ambassadors between cultures for other members of their communities. For González, that can mean a Latino or Latina with a passion for the outdoors who shares that passion with other Latinos.

NOLS and Latino Outdoors have helped foster these connections by forming a Gateway Partnership that dedicates scholarships for Latino Outdoors NOLS students. Recently, this partnership supported a Wilderness First Aid course for Latino Outdoor members. Gaining technical first aid knowledge empowered these leaders to return to their communities with the skills to guide others in the wilderness (read more about that course here). We look forward to a long-term relationship of co-designed programs that build more connections between NOLS and Latino Outdoors. We will seek opportunities for NOLS and Outdoor Latino communities to participate in partner programs, learn from each other and share each organization’s expertise. 

González concluded his talk encouraging everyone to support those seeking to feed their craving for the wilderness. Photo bu Brad Christensen.

González’s talk, falling on the final day of the 2015 Faculty Summit, was a powerful reminder of NOLS’ mission “to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment.” It was an invitation to continue our work to bring out our students’ individual stories to expand our understanding of how rich and diverse the voices are that bring each of us into relationship with the wilderness.

Learn more about Gateway Partnerships. 

Special thanks to Casey Adams, Katherine Boehrer, Debra East, Jeanne O'Brien, and Rachael Price for their contributions to this post.

Watch González’s talk:


Written By

Molly Herber

Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber

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