Story at a glance

  • Cornell University has defended a controversial course that has sparked criticism because it was originally reserved for minority groups.
  • A BIPOC Rock Climbing class was initially labeled as a class for “people who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, or other people of color.”
  • The course is now described as a class designed for “people of color underrepresented in the sport of rock climbing to learn the sport and to feel included and supported.”

Cornell University defended a controversial course offering that has sparked criticism because it was originally reserved for minority groups. 

A spring semester BIPOC Rock Climbing class was initially labeled as a class for “people who identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, or other people of color,” according to the Cornell Daily Sun. But outrage over the exclusionary description led to a change. 

Some viewed the university’s initial course offering as racist and a violation of federal Title IV law that prohibits education programs that receive federal funding from discrimination based on race or national origin, according to The Daily Sun. A thread on Cornell’s Reddit is dedicated to ending the “racially segregated” course. 

The course is now described as a class designed for “people of color underrepresented in the sport of rock climbing to learn the sport and to feel included and supported.” It is open to all students who wish to enroll. 


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Cornell spokesperson John Carberry told the university newspaper that certain offerings may focus on particular groups but do not exclude students who want to participate. 

“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.”

Several students and instructors noted that the course was intended as a way to enhance access while targeting basic issues in the sport. Michelle Croen, a student and course instructor, told the paper the rock climbing world is rife with inequalities. 

“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,” Croen said.

Another instructor, Matthew Gavieta, said the course objectives are the same across the board. All courses are designed to teach the fundamentals of climbing, Gavieta added. The primary goal is to improve access. 

“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," Gavieta said.


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Published on May 05, 2021