April 12, 2021   /  

Name: Zoie Bills
Majors: Communication Studies, Psychology
Advisors: Dr. Denise Bostdorff, Dr. Melissa Weller

Most Socially & Emotionally Connected Award

Spending time in nature is regarded as a great way to have fun and improve one’s mental or physical health. Black people are largely underrepresented in public parks and other outdoor spaces. My film explores the lack of Black presence in outdoor spaces in an effort to promote Black people’s usage of these places. I used interviews with students, environmental activists, and my own family in order to explore the scholarly, structural, cultural, and personal factors that impact Black folks’ engagement with the outdoors. The interviews revealed several major takeaways including that Black people have historical roots in outdoor spaces that are often undiscussed and that their absence from these spaces is often due to concerns for their safety. The thoughts expressed by my interviewees suggested that community building and an intersectional approach are both important to Black people’s experiences outdoors. The discussions also highlighted the importance of structural inequity being addressed concurrently alongside attitudinal changes in the Black community.

Keywords: Black people, racial equity, environmental justice, outdoor activity

Zoie will be online to field comments on April 16:
2-4pm EDT (PST: 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)


  1. Zoie, congratulations on your I.S. and the Symposium Award!! You never told me that this was your I.S. topic. “Black Outside” is incredible and very timely for my department, because we think about these themes all of the time in Scovel Hall. In fact, I have a student who is also very interested in this exact topic. I wish you the best on your journey after Wooster, as you enter the next chapter in your life.

    1. Thank you Prof Judge! I’d love to chat about this topic sometime and am happy to hear other students are interested.

  2. Zoie, congratulations! I’m so proud of you and happy that your thoughtful and creative work has been recognized. It’s been a pleasure to work with you, and I can’t wait for more people to see your film.

  3. Zoie, this is so great. Well done. I love the setting. Your interviewees were so open and the whole thing felt relaxed, helping the power of the content to really shine through. I really connected to this as it has been a part of my experience with my Black friends and family. Thanks for bringing awareness to the topic and providing some really unique ideas as well.

  4. Zoie, what a cool study! I wish I could have worked with you on it. Is there any way this film could be available to show future students?
    Congratulations on all you have accomplished and on persevering through some very challenging times. Your personal strength will serve you well as you move on to the next stage.

    1. Thank you Dr. Clayton! I also would have loved to look at the social psych side of all of this. I’ll make sure to send you a link to the finished film.

  5. Zoie – Congratulations! I am so grateful for your work in this area…such an important and often understudied area. Thank you!

  6. Zoie, congratulations on your work and the ensuing award! Thanks for your interdisciplinary work that has implications for many fields of study.

  7. Zoie, I’m super excited to be able to watch your film on a super important topic and congrats on the award! So so proud of you!!

  8. Hello Zoie, Excellent work – thank you so much bringing these voices forward, and thanks to all the participants for being so open with their contributions. I’m an alumnus now living in Colorado, where the outdoors is such an important part of life, and of course I have noticed that it seems to be a largely white activity, but I never stopped to think about why that might be. This was very eye-opening – thanks again and best of luck.

    1. Thank you. I am glad that you enjoyed it! One of the participants in the film is also from Colorado and spoke about the disparities in her interview.

  9. Zoie, I really appreciated watching your film, I loved seeing familiar faces, and hearing their experiences and fears was emotional – a great award for your project. Congratulations on your hard work!

  10. I loved this video so much, Zoie! Really well put together, and I especially liked listening to everyone talk about how Black people can find joy outside, and how Black joy itself is a form of resistance. A quote from this video that I think is gonna stick with me is, “All of this is for all of us.” As a white person who loves being outdoors, I think “all of this is for all of us” will be a really good mantra for me moving forward to help make those outdoor spaces I cherish so much spaces where everybody can feel safe and enjoy healing connections to nature.

    Also, Zoie, to the young friend who has a few clips sitting on a playground… please tell them I love their heart-shaped glasses!!!!

    Love u and miss u Zoie!

  11. Hey Zoie, congratulations on your award, it’s well deserved after all your hardwork!

  12. Excellent work! Very enlightening and educational for me. Outdoor Spaces should be therapeutic, but they can be quite the opposite for a Black person. Congrats on your award.

  13. Zoie, what a beautiful project. You speak to so many important issues concerning joy, access, and activism. This dialogues so well with new anthropological research I’m undertaking about the collective labor and leisure practices of BIPOC and other minoritized youth in the outdoors. Congratulations; I hope to learn more about your work!

    1. Thank you so much! Your work sounds fascinating and I would love to learn more about it.

  14. Zoie, unsurprisingly, you absolutely crushed this project. I am so grateful for your beautiful mind and ability to dive into such important work. Congratulations! I cant wait to see what you achieve going forward.

  15. Very well done film, Zoie. Your presentation of a crucial and socially relevant topic is engaging and thoughtful. Best of luck in your future pursuits.

  16. OKAY AWARD!!!!

    I have been by far the most excited for your project. Black people are born from the Earth and would have stayed that way if it wasn’t for socioeconomic, cultural, and religious colonialism (both historical and modern). It’s time to get back into it! I’m beyond proud of you for all of the blood, sweat, and tears you put into the project. And I’m even more excited to see how you continue this work in your professional life! Love you

  17. Outstanding work, Zoie! Thank you for shinning a light on this critically important topic. And, congratulations on the award – it is well deserved! Best of luck in all that you do after Wooster!

    1. Thank you for the encouragement and all of the advice this past year Dr. Abraham!

  18. Zoie, I really enjoy your project! Your film is a great accessible way to present a topic that I don’t think most white folks consider. I enjoy how you chose to communicate your research through visual interviews, it was really successful at getting audiences to truly engage with the issues. I always like a media project that connects the personal and political, wonderful work!

  19. Congratulations on your award, Zoie! Your film is beautiful. Best of luck in your endeavors beyond the College of Wooster.

  20. This is so beautiful and well-deserving of the award. I was genuinely connected to the conversations and what it means to be Black Outside. Really outstanding work!

    1. Thank you Alayt! Congrats on your award too! You really fused math and digital media together seamlessly.

  21. Congratulations on your project and your award, Zoie! It’s really interesting to learn about marginalized groups and our relationship to the surrounding environment and infrastructures; there’s so much to unpack where this topic is concerned. I can tell that this topic means a lot to you, and I’m glad that you took time to investigate something truly important!

    1. Thank you Morgan! I can’t wait to see what you do in your studies and leadership positions.

  22. I’m wondering, what inspired you to write about this topic specifically? I’ve seen a lot circulating in discussion about environmentalism and race, but I’d love to hear your process to creating this!

    1. Thank you Jada! I know you know the whole process but for the sake of any readers: I chose this topic to encourage Blacks folks to get outdoors and to create conversation about the factors that have led to disparities in participation.

      Thank you for being a fabulous participant🖤

  23. Congratulations, and awesome work on this film! You got so many people’s perspectives, seeing people’s unique perspectives but also the common threads in the things they discussed was both informative and engaging. I learned so much about the sources of discomfort and discrimination, I can see why this issue is so important. Further, highlighting the joy that can come out of these experiences really ended this on a hopeful note!

  24. I loved this presentation of your I.S., Zoie. Congrats on your hard work! How did the background of your participants affect their perspectives on, definition of, and engagement with outdoor spaces? As a Black woman whose roots and heritage is centered in the outdoors and deep country (Charleston, MS), I find that my love for and comfort in the outdoors is not mirrored by other Black people, especially Black women.

    1. Thanks Jelly. Participants backgrounds are key to how they view and engage with the outdoors. As Black people in America we all have shared collective consciousness of the history of anti-Black violence in outdoor spaces. We also share the awareness of present day instances of discrimination that Black folks face outdoors. Outside of that, each individual’s background affects how they view outdoor spaces. Childhood experiences and familial upbringing are particularly salient in influencing the way that Black folks choose to engage (or not engage) with the outdoors. If a Black person grows up having positive experiences in nature then those memories are able to act as a sort of “buffer” against any discrimination that they may face or witness throughout their life. Another huge factor is whether or not Black folks feel that they have a sense of community when they are outdoors so I hope that me, you, and all of the other lovely Black woman who are out exploring can continue to create space for ourselves.

  25. So many moving clips! Thank you so much for putting this together. I think it’s something that a lot of us haven’t considered before which makes your work even more important.

  26. This is so incredible Zoie, thank you for this important work. I am in awe of you always!! Sending so much love on this HUGE accomplishment; I’ll be cheering you on no matter what you do next <3

  27. Zoie, congrats on your IS and the well-deserved award! This is such an important project, thank you for sharing it with us! I’m so proud of you for all the hard work and thought you put into this, and I can’t wait to see all you’ll do in the next chapter of your life!

  28. Excellent topic! Great presentation of your work! Congratulations on your award! You know I am super proud of you!!!

  29. Wow! Wow! Wow! And more wow!! I have never doubted for a moment that you can and will do great things in life. This film is most definitely one of those. Though you may have doubts, I pray that this accomplishment, completing your very first (yes, I believe there are more to come), will serve d official notice that you are an amazing creative being. Your thoughts, your endeavors, your mark in this world matters! Thank you for opening up this narrating regarding black people in outdoor spaces. Thank you encouraging many, myself included to get outdoors and enjoy what it has to offer, on super of the struggles we may have on doing so. And thank you for being you and for doing the work! You are amazing! Congratulations on your award!!! Be Blessed, angel!!!

  30. Such a great topic. Such a beautiful way of presenting information. Thank you for sharing with us.

  31. Dear Zoie,

    Thank you so much for making and sharing this beautiful film. It is so moving and important in so many ways. I hope that many, many people watch it – it is powerful.

    Many thanks for all the wonderful things you have done and led at Wooster. We are so fortunate that you are part of this community. Congratulations on all you have accomplished! You will do great things after graduation!

    1. Thank you President Bolton! I appreciate the opportunities that I’ve had to work with you throughout my time here.

  32. I knew your final film would be awesome, but I was not prepared. This is great work and says so much about you and your talent. As I watched, I kept thinking “natural”- of how natural the conversations were even for such a subconscious issue; and, of the natural backdrop as we discussed nature. The concept was genius. Thanks for allowing me to participate. I am so proud of you!

  33. Zoie — congratulations on your important and profoundly important film. It was absolutely socially and emotionally connected and your award was well deserved. All the best to you and thanks for all you have done for Wooster!

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