Research shows Blacks under-represented in outdoor recreation

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COLUMBIA - African Americans are less likely to participate in outdoor activities, according to research done by MU professor Dr. KangJae Lee. The research investigated African Americans' under-representation at public parks and outdoor recreation. Many researchers and surveys documented that African Americans are less likely to engage in outdoor recreation such as visiting state and national parks, camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching compared to other racial groups.

In response to news of the research findings, Tammy Miller, Public Information Specialist at Columbia Parks and Recreation said the city of Columbia does not measure racial demographic data in regard to Parks and Recreation participation.

"The only possible indication of racial and ethnic data could be a survey in 2011, but the questions were not designed for that purpose," Miller said.

She said the city will send out another survey in early 2015 and recording racial demographics may be up for discussion in the near future.

Dr. Lee's research is based on a study done in Texas, where he received his masters in Recreation, Park & Tourism Sciences. 

"I want to highlight that African Americans' non-visitation to park is deeply related to racism, justice, and equality. Historically, African Americans were not allowed to visit public recreational sites due to Jim Crow and institutional racism," Lee said. 

Dr. Lee said he used a qualitative method and utilized Pierre Bourdieu's sociological theory to explain his findings.

"All of my findings show that the centuries of racial oppression is the foundation of the under-representation. It is a historical and political issue that has been perpetuated in American history," Lee said. "Although I focused on the case of Cedar Hill State Park, the findings explain the under-representation in general and they are applicable to other parks and social context."

There were two major findings that Lee wants to emphasize. First, he found previous research failed to provide strong theoretical explanations for the under-representation.

"Second, I found strong injustice and oppression toward people of color. I decided to devote my academic career in race/ethnic issues because I wanted to make more people being aware of racial issues," said Dr. Lee "The United States is a multicultural society and each racial/ethnic group has made unique contributions in American society. Yet, we still see many incidents of interracial conflict and social division. I believe we have to continuously deal with these issues in order to make this society more harmonious and peaceful place. We still have a long way to go."

Dr. Lee is scheduled to present his findings at MU Wednesday as a part of the university initiative "Diversity in Action" to promote diversity in research and education. The initiative is a series of seminars, launched in the Fall of 2007,  from faculty members from a wide array of disciplines; humanities, social sciences, education, agriculture, medicine, nursing, and law-have presented their research findings. 

"MU currently has over 150 faculty conducting research that either investigates broader cultural issues such as health care disparities, immigration, and socioeconomic class or focuses on understanding issues related to specific populations," MU Director of Diversity Education and Research Niki Stanley said.

"I'm not sure how my research has affected my personal life or anyone's life so far. But we will see. It is my second year as a college professor. I will revisit this question a few decades later and see what kind of impact my research has created in this society," Lee said.

The Diversity in Action presentation featuring Dr. Lee is at 12 p.m. on MU's campus in Memorial Union North Room S110. A twenty minute question and answer period will follow the presentation.