Cornell’s race-exclusive rock-climbing course remains under fire

At Cornell University in upstate New York, a controversial course in rock-climbing has been attracting all of the wrong sorts of attention. It was originally billed as a “BIPOC Rock Climbing” class. In order to sign up for it, you had to “identify” as either “Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, or other people of color.” In other words, no whites allowed. After the media brought this to the attention of the public the school dropped the race-based restrictions and opened the class up to anyone who wanted to sign up. But the debate is still going on, and as the Free Beacon reports this week, the students who cooked up the idea in the first place are defending it as a way to fight white supremacists or whatever the tagline is supposed to be this week.

Cornell University students expressed support for racial segregation after the school allowed white students to enroll in a rock climbing class originally restricted to minority students…

Students enrolled in the course objected to the move, telling the Cornell Daily Sun that segregating the class “is a small step” toward greater racial equity.

“At the end of the day, there is an issue of inaccessibility for minorities in this white-centric sport and BIPOC rock-climbing is a small step towards desegregating that community,” Matthew Gavieta, a junior and BIPOC Rock Climbing class instructor, said.

One of the other instructors (who is a senior at the school) described how it is difficult for minority students to feel welcome in rock-climbing classes. This, she said, is because of the costs associate with getting into the sport and other “microaggressions,” such as course names.

Okay, I can understand how people might be put off by the need to invest a lot of money in equipment. (Rock Climbing Central estimates that it will cost an average of $400 just to get started.) And endemic poverty in minority communities is certainly a problem. But let’s remember that white kids from poor families have the same issues and college students tend to be perpetually broke unless they come from very upper-class families.

But what are these other “microaggressions” being discussed? They’re saying that the names of the rock-climbing courses are offensive in some way? I did a quick search for the names of well-known climbing courses and found some that include Castle Rock, Dolphin Safe, Barney’s Rubble, Good Boy Scout, and Red Rock. Are there some others out there with names like Whities Only or Klan Climbing that I’m just missing?

That same instructor went on to say, “Just under the surface, the climbing world especially is affected by racism, sexism, and sizeism.” Wow. That’s a lot to take in, particularly for those of us who don’t spend their time dangling from cliffs.

I’m guessing that the students who came up with the BIPOC idea have already accomplished their goal, however. Now that word has spread about this initiative, what white students in their right mind would sign up for this course? Do you really want to pay an arm and a leg in both course fees and equipment to go join a group where you will clearly not be made to feel welcome? I’m sure most students can go almost anywhere on campus and feel rejected without paying anyone for the privilege.

There’s just one other issue with this concept that I’d like to bring up, beyond the obvious legal and moral problems with excluding people from activities based on the color of their skin. (Any color.) Let’s just say that you’re willing to be accepting of a race-based requirement to take the class. Who gets to decide how white you are before you’re excluded? What if you have one Black, Asian or Hispanic grandparent in an otherwise white family? Is that too white to participate? Also, they used the word “identify” in the description. Would Rachel Dolezal be allowed to join?

I find myself picturing the sign-up sheet for this BIPOC course and seeing a requirement that you have to submit a 23 & Me profile in order to enter. There’s a weird sort of irony in seeing the same groups on these campuses who scream the loudest about racism endorsing a program that’s entirely race-exclusive. But I guess that’s just the world we live in today.

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