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Rock-climbing class designed for students of color at Ivy League school draws racism accusations — but campus defends it

Image source: YouTube screenshot

When folks got an eyeful of the original course description for PE 1641: BIPOC Rock Climbing at Cornell University this spring, some were shocked to learn that the class was open only to students identifying as black, indigenous, and people of color, the Cornell Daily Sun reported.

What happened next?

The paper said a thread of posts to the Cornell Reddit called for an end to "racially segregated P.E. classes at Cornell" while others said it hindered the school's diversity and inclusion efforts and violated federal Title VI, which states that no educational program receiving federal financial assistance may exclude participation on the basis of race or national origin.

The Daily Sun added that national scrutiny followed, along with claims in the media that the course instituted a "white ban."

With that, the paper said Cornell opened enrollment to all students — and wrote a new course description saying 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."

The revision didn't escape the notice of Campus Reform, which published a story with the following headline: "Cornell Charges Students $1,800 for Racially-segregated Rock Climbing Class, Frantically Scrubs Website When Confronted."

Students have their say

In the wake of all the hubbub, the Daily Sun spoke to students to get their takes on the class as the spring semester draws to a close.

Student Lwam Asfaw told the paper the course's BIPOC label encouraged her to enroll in it, adding that others should focus less on why segregation exists and more on why there's a need to segregate.

Student Yvonne Chan told the Daily Sun that the course is a safe space, particularly since there are eight sections of P.E. 1640: Basic Rock Climbing apart from the BIPOC class.

Thomas Gambra, another minority student, told the paper that "hearing people complain about this class, saying it's taking away from our white peers, is laughable and frustrating."

The Daily Sun said few students expressed any objection to the school's decision to open enrollment to all students.

Student Matthew Gavieta, a BIPOC instructor leading the course this year, told the paper it's unlikely that students who don't identify as BIPOC would enroll in the course.

"At the end of the day there is an issue of inaccessibility for minorities in this white-centric sport," Gavieta told the Daily Sun, "and BIPOC rock-climbing is a small step toward desegregating that community."

Student Michelle Croen, another course instructor, told the paper that "from larger issues such as cost of entry and accessibility, to smaller microaggressions like the names of some outdoor climbing routes, it's difficult to be a minority and feel welcomed in the outdoors. Just under the surface, the climbing world especially is affected by racism, sexism and sizeism."

Here's an orientation video regarding indoor rock climbing at Cornell posted to YouTube late last year:

Lindseth Climbing Center Orientation Video www.youtube.com

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