Lander, WY — December 13, 2019 — At the 26th annual Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Aparna Rajagopal received the 2019 Charles (Reb) Gregg Wilderness Risk Management Award for her significant contributions to the field of risk management in outdoor education and adventure professions.
Presented annually since 2006, recipients of the Charles (Reb) Gregg Wilderness Risk Management Award are recognized for exceptional leadership, service, and innovation in wilderness risk management.
Aparna Rajagopal was recognized at the 26th annual WRMC for her leadership in the areas of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the outdoor industry. Photo by Brad Christensen/ NOLS
Rajagopal is a founding partner of the Avarna Group, whose work involves strategically promoting social and environmental justice by providing tools and services to empower outdoor organizations to create more equitable, inclusive, and just communities. Rajagopal is also a co-founder and advisor to the People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Nature, and the Environment Summit (PGM ONE Summit), an affinity space for black, indigenous, and people of color/of the global majority to share, heal, and work towards racial justice in environmental and outdoor communities. She has provided focal leadership in the outdoor and conservation communities’ evolving understanding of how justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) can, and should, inform risk management practices.
Rajagopal’s work is driven by a desire to create change in the global community, however, her understanding of JEDI has grown from a personal place in her own life and story. “Since early in my life, I began wearing a mask. I had to put it on when I was young so I would be accepted. I changed my Indian accent, I started acting differently, I started speaking differently, I started dressing differently.” Rajagopal’s story is not unique in the outdoor industry; “code-switching” and “imposter syndrome” are common for individuals who hold marginalized identities and who are forced to assimilate. In her remarks, Rajagopal discussed how exclusion, othering, and other types of emotional risk are combined with the environmental factors and complex group dynamics in outdoor program settings, amplifying physical risks to create “cosmic harm.”
Rajagopal referenced a powerful quote by Adrienne Rich: “When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you; when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing.” Outdoor leaders, she shared, have the opportunity to not only hold space for people of many different identities, but to also get to know them and help them feel a sense of belonging.
While acknowledging there is much more work to be done, Rajagopal also pointed to signs that change is happening in the outdoor industry. An increasing number of individuals and organizations are prioritizing JEDI work and acknowledging the role of emotional harm in risk management. Rajagopal encouraged organizations to continue working on centering JEDI work holistically and making it “part of the DNA of your organization.” She concluded her acceptance speech by thanking her teachers and other JEDI leaders in the industry.
About the WRMC
The Wilderness Risk Management Conference (WRMC) unites hundreds of organizations annually to share ideas and educate wilderness practitioners on practical risk management skills. The WRMC is a collaboration between Outward Bound USA, the Student Conservation Association, and NOLS, in partnership with the WRMC Steering Committee. Its core objective is to offer an outstanding educational experience that helps attending programs mitigate the risks inherent in exploring, working, teaching, and recreating in wild places.
Established in 1965, NOLS is the leader in wilderness education. What began in a small cabin in Wyoming’s Wind River mountain range has evolved into a global, multifaceted nonprofit school offering a proven leadership curriculum through expedition courses, wilderness medicine certifications, risk management training, and custom education solutions for organizations. Today, NOLS operates 16 campuses worldwide and provides classroom instruction in over 40 countries. The NOLS community includes over 800 active instructors who teach a variety of outdoor skills from mountaineering and sailing to wilderness medicine that empower students to step forward in their lives. To learn more about NOLS or to apply for a course, visit www.nols.edu or call 800.710.6657 to speak to an advisor.