Cornell defends BIPOC-only rock-climbing class after online uproar

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Cornell University is defending a new rock-climbing class offered to minority groups.

Among the Ivy League school’s Outdoor Education offerings for the spring 2021 semester was a course called “BIPOC Rock Climbing”. The course description, according to The Cornell Daily Sun, specified that the class was “for people who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, or other people of color.”

That prompted an uproar from across the internet. The university was accused of violating federal and state civil rights law while one Reddit user decried what they described as a “horrifically and monstrously racist practice that has no place in the modern world” and “literally evil”.

Earlier this year, the course description for “BIPOC Rock Climbing” was changed to read: “This 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 Monday that while such classes include “may include a focus on students with specific identities, they are not restricted to only those students.

“Cornell offers many programs that support interests and perspectives of different parts of our community,” he added. “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.”

With the semester winding down, students and instructors defended the course’s emphasis on non-white students. One student, freshman Thomas Gambra, told the Daily Sun that “[h]earing people complain about this class, saying it’s taking away from our white peers is laughable and frustrating.”

Instructor Matthew Gavieta, a junior, explained that the BIPOC course was meant to help alleviate what he called “an issue of inaccessibility for minorities in this white-centric sport.”

Another instructor, senior Michelle Croen, alleged that “it’s difficult to be a minority and feel welcomed in the outdoors,” citing issues including “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,” claimed Croen, who added that, “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.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 36% of Cornell’s 15,000-plus undergraduate students in the fall of 2019 were white. The second-largest racial group was Asians (20%), followed by Hispanic/Latino students (14%). Black or African-American students made up 7% of Cornell’s undergraduate population, behind “Race/ethnicity unknown” (8%) and “Non-resident alien” (11%).

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