This summer, University of Toronto (U of T) Sport & Rec is partnering with Let’s Hike T.O. to provide a hike series for students. The partnership is intended to introduce young people, people of color and newcomers to hiking.
Sandakie Ekanayake, the assistant manager of co-curricular Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at U of T’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, said Let’s Hike T.O.’s mission to assist groups who have been and continue to be excluded from outdoor activities, education and recreation.
“The partnership was started a little over a year ago,” said Ekanayake. “For us, it’s a natural connection. Hiking is a great, low-stakes way to get started. The mandate of the U of T’s Sport & Recreation’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (EDIB) team is to deliver sport and physical activity programs for equity-deserving students, so this has been a beautiful partnership so far.”
Hike Series Details
The “urban hike” will take place on Saturday, June 24, and will take attendees on a journey through downtown Toronto. This 6K walk will take the group from Museum Station up to Cedarvale Park, ending at Eglinton Station. Hikers are asked to bring some snacks, a camera, comfortable shoes, sunscreen and to dress for the weather as they learn more about the city’s landmarks.
Ekanayake said the hike series is trying to offer some variety to the department’s portfolio while also introducing a low-barrier, accessible introduction to some joyful movement for communities that may previously not have engaged in this sort of physical activity.
“Furthermore, the introduction of programming that is off campus and outside of our facilities also removes barriers to participation that exists in our students’ body,” said Ekanayake. “We know from feedback and lived experience that simply entering one of our Sport & Rec facilities can be a daunting and intimidating task. So, offering activities outside of these facilities has proven helpful.”
Also, Ekanayake said the series provides students who stay on campus through the spring and summer months something to look forward to. “It’s definitely a less busy time on campus, but hikes can increase during this time as the weather is more conducive to them,” she said. “It allows our students to get out and connect with nature and their urban environment in a way they would not have done without our program offerings.”
Tips and the Future
Thus far, Ekanayake said the hike series has been quite popular among students. Moving forward, she said the team is working on adding even more opportunities to their outdoor activities.
“We ran ski excursions in the past, but we are hoping to add both hikes and skiing to a portfolio of outdoor offerings that are geared toward equity deserving groups who have historically been excluded from outdoor education and recreation,” said Ekanayake. “We are hoping Let’s Hike T.O. would be a continued partner in our expanded outdoor rec portfolio.”
For other schools looking to improve their own inclusion efforts when it comes to activities, Ekanayake recommended to start small and to center those who are most marginalized.
“I think every experience is unique to the campus, its geolocation and students,” said Ekanayake. “The most important thing is to focus on free or low-cost offerings that make the programs more accessible. And as with anything, integrating reconciliation with Indigenous communities and knowledges into our land-based program is a must — something that we are hoping to grow in our portfolio as well.”
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