Alumni Profile: Diquan Edmonds is Working to Improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Parks and Recreation
Diquan Edmonds graduated with a master’s degree in parks, recreation and tourism management in 2019. During his time in the College of Natural Resources, he completed his thesis project — “Understanding the Perceptions and Experiences of African-American Outdoor Recreationalists.” He’s now the program coordinator for the North Carolina Recreation and Park Association (NCRPA), where he’s working to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in parks and recreation.
Diquan has been involved in the College of Natural Resources since high school, when he was part of the Environmentors program. He studied sport management during his undergraduate degree and later found his passion for local parks and recreation. After a year of working for the NCRPA, Diquan had the opportunity to go back to school under a research assistantship.
Just after starting the masters program, Diquan took a trip to the mountains to camp out and watch the solar eclipse. “I looked around and didn’t see any people of color there,” he said. “It totally hit me that day. I had been thinking about things I wanted to research, and I came back from that trip and knew that I wanted to focus on African Americans in the outdoors.”
For his research, Diquan interviewed 14 African American outdoor recreation enthusiasts to learn about their experiences. He found that many of them faced barriers. “A lot of people had similar experiences to me even, especially around being the only Black person in the room or on the trail,” said Diquan. “People also experienced really racist things when they were participating in outdoor activities, like being called racial slurs or just being afraid and being harassed.”
Despite these barriers, they were still involved heavily in outdoor recreation. “A big part of it was being introduced to the outdoors by a role model or a friend or a peer,” said Diquan. He also found that affinity groups provided spaces for people to enjoy the outdoors together and overcome these obstacles.
“If we’re trying to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors, I think we first have to realize we have to talk about these barriers and realize that they’re coming from a place of a lot of historical context,” Diquan said.
As part of his research, Diquan also asked participants how they defined outdoor recreation. The responses went beyond hiking and camping to include picnicking and cookouts. Diquan believes that expanding the definition of outdoor recreation to include these activities is key to creating a more inclusive outdoor space.
Through his work at the NCRPA, he’s doing just that. The NCRPA is a nonprofit that focuses on education, advocacy and outreach within parks and recreation in North Carolina. Diquan creates workshops and training series, including programs focusing on systemic racism and the historical context of race in America.
The response to these workshops has been encouraging and they’ve been filling up weeks in advance. “It goes to show how willing and committed people are to learning about these issues,” Diquan said.
Another part of his role at the NCRPA is reconsidering the organization’s internal processes with diversity, equity and inclusion in mind. Diquan also works with other groups and organizations focused on promoting inclusion in parks and recreation. Doing so allows them to create partnerships and learn from one another.
In addition to his work at the NCRPA, Diquan has also been named a SHIFT (Shaping How We Invest For Tomorrow) emerging leader. This annual conference focuses on the intersections between outdoor recreation and health, wellness, equity and inclusion.
Diquan was also selected to be part of the National Park Service Academy. Through his internship at Yellowstone National Park, for example, he worked with the Youth Conservation Corp to lead trips and facilitate work projects. He currently serves on the National Parks Conservation Association Next Generation Advisory Council.
“It was such a great experience, and I know I would not have been in that position without the College of Natural Resources and my time in graduate school,” Diquan said.
In the future, Diquan hopes to see traditionally underserved communities reconnect to the outdoors and more people of color recognized as leaders in the outdoor industry. “I want to continue to help connect more people with the outdoors in ways that they are comfortable with,” he said. “I think it’s very important for the future of conservation for the outdoors to appeal to a broad and diverse range of people to ensure support for environmentally-minded policies and actions.”