BIPOC rock climbing course at Cornell University slammed as 'racist', students defend segregated class model

One student said there was no reason to attack the existence of the course when there are eight sections of 'PE 1640 Basic Rock Climbing' in addition to the one BIPOC rock climbing section

                            BIPOC rock climbing course at Cornell University slammed as 'racist', students defend segregated class model
The BIPOC Rock Climbing course (Cornell University)

Cornell University is reportedly defending a new rock climbing class offered only to minority groups. The Ivy League school’s Outdoor Education reportedly offered for the spring 2021 semester a course called “BIPOC Rock Climbing”. 

Five months ago, on the Cornell Subreddit, a user had shared this with criticism. “Cornell has always been leader in racial equity, and again we should continue to push toward inclusion for all parts of the community. It has come to my attention that Cornell PE has created a class that segregates BIPOC students into a separate rock climbing class. This class is for BIPOC students who feel uncomfortable sharing the climbing wall with their white peers, They believe that the best way to promote diversity and inclusion is by the deliberate exclusion of students on the basis of their race. This is an interesting theory that had more support a few generations ago, but perhaps they were right back then. I'm no expert.”


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The university campus in Ithaca (Cornell University)

Many others online criticized this move as well. In fact, as per a report, the university was accused of violating federal and state civil rights law. The College Fix, an American conservative news website focused on higher education, noted: “By its very phrasing, whites were not allowed to take the course.”

What is BIPOC Rock Climbing?

As per the Cornell Daily Sun, the course description initially said that the class was open only to those students identifying as BIPOC -- Black, Indigenous, and people of color. The “PE 1641: BIPOC Rock Climbing” course description was later changed to note that the “class is designed to enable Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, or other people of color underrepresented in the sport of rock climbing to learn the sport and to feel included and supported. The class is open to all Cornell students interested in learning rock climbing with this special focus.” 

University spokesperson John Carberry told the Daily Sun on Monday, May 3, that while such classes include “may include a focus on students with specific identities, they are not restricted to only those students.” He said, “Cornell offers many programs that support interests and perspectives of different parts of our community. We encourage any student who is interested to take advantage of the unique opportunities across campus to learn from and with the many diverse perspectives and voices across campus.”

Rock climbing is seen as a white-centric sport (Getty Images)

Students and instructors, however, defended the course’s emphasis on non-white students. Freshman Thomas Gambra, told reporters, “Hearing people complain about this class, saying it’s taking away from our white peers is laughable and frustrating.”

Yvonne Chan, another student in the course, described the class environment as a safe space. She said that she saw no reason to attack the existence of the course when there are eight sections of “PE 1640 Basic Rock Climbing” in addition to the one BIPOC rock climbing section. She said that the course was a valuable effort to encourage the inclusion of marginalized groups, noting similar efforts by larger organizations like Brothers of Climbing.

Instructor Matthew Gavieta, a junior, explained that the BIPOC course was meant to help alleviate “an issue of inaccessibility for minorities in this white-centric sport.” Another instructor, senior Michelle Croen, said that “it’s difficult to be a minority and feel welcomed in the outdoors,” adding that “cost of entry and accessibility [and] smaller microaggressions like the names of some outdoor climbing routes.”

“Just under the surface, the climbing world especially is affected by racism, sexism and size-ism,” said Croen. “By creating a community of traditionally underrepresented people, we allow students to explore climbing and what it means to them on their own terms, in a comfortable, safe space.”

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