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Report to the Board of Trustees, January 2021

Monday, January 18, 2021 8:08 PM | Elena Chin (Administrator)

NIA Report

Elena Chin, NIA President

18 January 2021

I am honored to submit my first NIA report to the Board of Trustees this year on Martin Luther King Day -- a holiday that NOLS recently announced that we would observe. The last 10 months have brought unprecedented change to the world, and looking forward, I hope that we take this moment to make certain that this change for the better. 

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Elena Chin, I’m a field instructor who’s been working for the school since 2013, and up until the Covid-19 Reduction in Force I was also the Recruitment and Development Coordinator in the Field Staffing Office. I use she/her pronouns (although I’m OK with they/them if that works better for you), and I identify as a cis, straight, half first-generation, US woman of color.

All of these pieces feel important to me when I think about serving the NOLS community as NIA President. I deeply believe that NOLS is a place where those who want to connect to wild places and grow leadership skills ought to be welcome -- regardless of race, gender, citizenship, or any other identity category. I bring this belief to every course I work, I brought this to my in-town work prior to the Reduction in Force, and currently am bringing this to the work I’m doing on the NOLS JEDI Steering Committee and NIA Presidency.

We’re also excited to welcome Debra East, Isi Llarena, Nadine Lehner, and John Sims to the NIA Board of Directors! These four bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and perspectives. As you may remember, the NIA recently shifted to welcoming any NOLS employee below the Executive Team Level, a move which we hope will allow for more collaboration between the many people who make the magic happen. We’re particularly excited to have Debra and John as our first non-instructor Board members. You can read the bios of current and emeritus NIA Board members on the NIA website. 

And now back to this bit about change. 

In our election process in December we included a survey to ask NIA membership what we should focus on and/or continue to focus on in the next year. We received about 130 responses. Of the the things the NIA is currently working on, compensation, non-executive level employee representation in decision-making, and travel reimbursements ranked above the highest priorities. In the responses to the open-format question “What other important issues should the NIA be working to address?” the largest themes were JEDI work, support for international instructors, and increased transparency. 

Some of this change is already in the works, and we are excited to support NOLS in this positive momentum. The recent addition of full travel reimbursements and payment of last-minute canceled contracts for field instructors are making a meaningful difference for us, and we would like to express our deep gratitude to the Field Staffing Office and all others involved in making that possible.

For the other things, we are excited to keep exploring what employee representation, JEDI work, support for international instructors, and increased transparency will look like. The NIA hopes to hold itself accountable in supporting inclusion, access and equity for students, faculty, and staff, and help identify ways to build alignment across our NOLS community. We hope to celebrate the diversity we hold at the school, understand how JEDI concepts unfold in all the countries we operate in, and build transformative awareness among those who are already here at NOLS, so as to welcome those not yet included. Our goal is for the NIA Board to collaborate closely with all levels of NOLS leadership, the Board of Trustees, and all those we represent to help keep us moving forward.

There is no doubt that 2020 and what we’ve had so far of 2021 have been challenging for our community. Beyond Covid-19, we’ve seen NOLS have its own internal and external reckoning with racial justice, and we found ourselves unpracticed and ineloquent in the critical moment of leadership that came after the murder of Gerorge Floyd. My deepest hope is that we respond to our shortcomings in JEDI work with the same humility and openness that we would after an accident or near miss. If we can find the fortitude to sit in this tension and recognize that the presence of White Supremacy, the dominance of masculinity, and current reality of colonialism, among others, truly are risk factors in our community, then perhaps we can move out of a negative peace which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace which is the presence of justice for all those who make up our NOLS community.

As we honor Martin Luther King Day for the first time on the NOLS calendar, the NIA Board is thinking deeply about what it can do to support those in our community who are most vulnerable, be that due to finances, citizenship, race, gender, health, or any other factor. It is quite a mission to be the leading source and teacher of wilderness skills and leadership that serve people and the environment, and I hope that we can live up to that with integrity in ourselves and in service to all those in our community.

1. This concept is taken from Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” -- a powerful read written in 1963  that gives some interesting insight into what we are seeing continuing to unfold today.  

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