March 23, 2014
March is Women’s History Month, and Sierra would like to take this time to acknowledge the extraordinary women who have joined the Sierra Club's ranks, both past and present.
When Allison Chin was growing up, she and her family went camping every summer, an experience that has embedded her with a love of nature and the outdoors. She started looking for an organization that showed the same desire to protect national parks that she felt, which led her to the Sierra Club.
Chin described herself as "a paper member" for years and joined the Sierra Club while in graduate school.
"When I was a grad student I took a fellow grad student camping for her first time, and she was about 23, and it just hit me that I had taken it all for granted," Chin said. "If you don’t know the outdoors, if you don't know these wonderful places, why would you go out there?"
Unfortunately, graduate school doesn't exactly lend itself to free time, and Chin knew that volunteering wouldn't be on the agenda until after she graduated.
"When I did finally get my degree, one of my presents to myself was to volunteer with the Sierra Club," Chin said. "It was through the Inner City Outings program, and I love working with young people and I love hiking, so I could connect those two interests. It was great to give back and get to know a new area where I was living. That was definitely the beginning of a very, very long relationship."
Within a year after Chin's first experience with the San Jose chapter of the Inner City Outings, she became a certified outings leader and went on to lead over 200 trips. In 2008, she became the first person of color to serve as president of the Sierra Club's board, a position she held until 2010 and again from 2012 to 2013. She described her time as president as "humbling," and acknowledged the women who paved her way.
"Women were founding members of the Club too, which is just a testament to the fact that even though we're thought of as an old, male-dominated organization, there have been women as leaders in the Club who have been real critical to the movement," she said.
Chin has been an advocate for increasing diversity in the Club's leadership, and hopes that one day the diversity initiatives in place will no longer be necessary.
"The demographics in our country are shifting; we don’t reflect the communities that we work in and live in," Chin said. "If we want to reach everyone then we’ve got to reflect them in our leadership. It’s essential to building the movement that we really engage people, and one of the best ways to attract people is to make sure that you reflect them and their values."
One of the highlights of her time as president was when the board agreed to support a pathway to citizenship. The Sierra Club has a policy to remain neutral on the subject of immigration, but Chin believes this decision sent an important message.
"We were able to be consistent with both our practices of honoring our immigration policy and our commitment to being a more inclusive and welcoming organization," Chin said. "We found a way to stand up for the values we believe in; that everyone has a right to clean water, clean air."
During Chin's second term as president, she presided over a historic decision for the Club's board to partake in an act of civil disobedience against the Keystone XL pipeline.
"With the president getting his second term, with the Keystone decision, with our ears to the ground hearing people of all walks of life looking for leadership and wanting to take action, we did think that was the right moment."
Chin has continued to stay active in the Sierra Club with Our Wild America and the Diversity Council. She is also working with the Sierra Club and other organizations to increase diversity and inclusion.
--Image courtesy of Sierra Club Archives/Colby Library
Jessica Zischke is an editorial intern at Sierra. She is currently studying environmental studies at Dartmouth College, where she also works as a staff writer for The Dartmouth newspaper.