Northwest Women wants to give students a break from constant academic and social stress by exploring the picturesque nature of western Washington.
Founded in 2014, the registered student organization (RSO) at the UW is trying to make the outdoors more accessible to people who find it hard to navigate it alone. Almost every week, a group of approximately 15 women, including two of the 10 officers, caravan to a new location for a hike or some other fun activity. Highlights of the club’s schedule include late night tubing at Snoqualmie Pass, cross-country skiing, backpacking, and snowshoeing.
A major reason why Northwest Women was established was to combat the male-dominated narrative around outdoors activities. One of the few companies trying to change this is REI, which launched a campaign last year aimed at levelling the playing field.
“I like that this club really emphasizes getting women outdoors and empowering them to do it on their own because I don’t see a lot of leaders in the outdoor industry looking to do that sort of thing,” senior Rachel Fricke, one of Northwest Women’s officers, said. “That’s a big culture shift that needs to happen.”
The organization quickly grew from just one hike per quarter to a constant stream of activities that it organizes now. Northwest Women is always trying to organize and run events more efficiently, which is why all of the club’s officers meet once a week to recap outings and brainstorm what they can do better next time.
Northwest Women is not plagued by one problem that many RSOs face: outreach. While only 15 students can make each trip because of a lack of vehicles for transportation, the demand is much higher. There is usually a long waitlist for people hoping to come along for a day trip when someone else cancels. They would love to bring more people, but there is often a problem of finding students who can bring their cars to the UW’s urban campus.
Part of this appetite is due to Northwest Women’s strong presence on campus. On top of their off-campus excursions, the club also hosts and takes part in a number of events at the UW throughout the year, such as a Spikeball tournament, a movie night, and a number of philanthropic activities.
Additionally, much of the club’s demand comes from students who are originally from areas that lack the diverse landscape of the Pacific Northwest.
“It gives me an opportunity to actually get outdoors in Washington because I’m not from here,” Stephanie Reiss, another club officer, said. “I don’t otherwise really have much access to cars or transportation, or even, initially, knowledge about where to go.”
Northwest Women tries to erase much of the anxiety that people have regarding outdoors activities by taking care of many aspects of travel that are difficult to cover, including food and navigation. This makes it easier for those who have limited outdoor experience to get started.
“There is a big intimidation factor in getting outside because of gear and equipment and just expertise level,” Shree Mehta, one of the club’s longest-serving officers, said. “I love that it was a space that there were just a lot of supportive women that were teaching each other stuff and lifting each other up and learning from each other.”
Everyone who attends events, or is a member of the club, is doing it to simply broaden their horizons, expand their comfort zone, and escape the stress and competition of student life. When compounded with the fact that main goal is to enjoy yourself, it is easy to see how it can breed such a strong community.
“It’s really cool to be surrounded by people that are all here for the same reason: to try new things,” senior Hiruni Jayasekara, who is also one of the organization’s officers, said. “All of these girls make me more confident.”
Reach writer Jake Goldstein-Street at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet