Cornell defends its BIPOC-exclusive rock climbing class in the face of online backlash.
Cornell University is defending a new minority-led rock climbing class.
Among the Outdoor Education offerings for the spring 2021 semester at the Ivy League school was a course called “BIPOC Rock Climbing.” According to The Cornell Daily Sun, the course description stated that it was “for individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, or other people of color.”
This sparked outrage around the internet. The university was charged with violating federal and state civil rights laws, and one Reddit user condemned what they characterized as a “horrifyingly and monstrously racist activity that has no place in the modern world” and “literally evil.”
Earlier this year, the course description for “BIPOC Rock Climbing” was updated to read as follows: “This class is designed to teach the sport of rock climbing to Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and other people of color who are underrepresented in the sport.” The class is open to all Cornell students interested in studying rock climbing with a particular emphasis on this form of climbing.”
According to University spokesperson John Carberry, while such classes “may include a focus on students with special identities,” they are not limited to such students.
Cornell provides a variety of services that cater to the diverse needs and viewpoints of members of our community,” he said. “We encourage every student interested in learning from and with the many different backgrounds and voices on campus to take advantage of the unique opportunities.”
Students and teachers defended the course’s focus on non-white students as the semester came to a close. According to one student, freshman Thomas Gambra, “[h]earing people complain about this class and how it is taking away from our white peers is both laughable and upsetting.”
Instructor Matthew Gavieta, a junior, clarified that the BIPOC course was designed to address what he referred to as “a problem of inaccessibility for minorities in this white-dominated sport.”
Another coach, senior Michelle Croen, asserted that “it’s difficult to be a minority and feel welcome in the outdoors,” citing concerns such as “cost of entry and accessibility” and “microaggressions such as the names of some outdoor climbing routes.”
“Below the surface, the climbing world is particularly influenced by racism, sexism, and sizeism,” Croen asserted, adding that “by fostering a group of historically underrepresented individuals, we allow students to explore climbing and what it means to them on their own terms, in a relaxed, healthy environment.”