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Climbing Wall competitions revised for inclusivity

Students are taught how to properly wear harnesses and tie themselves with effective knots in the Health, Wellness and Athletics Center Sept. 30. Beginner climbers are taught the basics of climbing lingo and how to be safe on the wall by staff. Photo courtesy of Lucas Arico.

The climbing wall in the Health, Wellness and Athletic Center is changing how they approach their competitions, with the goal of creating a more inclusive environment, according to Climbing Wall Co-Manager and senior outdoor education and leadership major Tate Michener.

In previous years, the climbing competitions consisted of two categories: one for males and the other for females, according to Michener.

“We feel like there’s a lot of problems with a gendered competition and we’re going to try to do a skills based competition [this year,]” Michener said.

The competition will now have three categories: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Climbers will self-assess how difficult of a route they can climb and will be placed into their respective category, according to Michener.

The climbing competition is open to everyone and will also include a Halloween costume contest; students can come to compete or watch others climb Oct. 28.

“We want to make [the climbing wall] open to […] diverse students, whether that applies to race, sexuality, etc.,” said sophomore OEL major and climbing wall employee Annie La Roche. 

Typically, the climbing culture is male-dominated and can be intimidating, but the staff wants to make the climbing wall at HWAC as comfortable of a space as possible, according to La Roche.

Before COVID-19, the climbing wall was a social hotspot where students could hang out and watch each other climb, according to Michener.

“Walking into that environment and seeing all those people I imagine is not very welcoming [as a beginner climber,]” Michener said.

Students scale the climbing wall in the Health, Wellness and Athletics Center during Queer Climb Night Sept. 30. Queer Climb Night is one of the events co-planned by Queer Compas and climbing wall staff, and aims to introduce students to climbing and connect people of different backgrounds. Photo courtesy of Lucas Arico.

While the staff would love to bring back the idea of students hanging out at the wall, they want to make sure the wall stays inclusive and welcoming, according to Michener.

To encourage more students to come to the wall, the staff are planning events so students can climb in a comfortable environment. Some of these events include Queer Climbing Nights, History of Climbing Night and a Female Hour, according to La Roche.

Climbing clinics are a series of events the staff plans to host, according to senior environmental science major and climbing wall staff member Kai Bently.

The clinics will be taught by the staff and will teach new climbing skills and techniques such as lead climbing, belaying and more, according to Bently.

“A lot of the time [the climbing staff] thought that the climbing wall was kind of  focused on the OEL students, which I feel a lot of people think is true,” La Roche said. “But it’s an accessible space that anyone can come to.”

Trying to host a climbing competition in a new way can have it’s own set of challenges, and the climbing wall staff are ready to accept that some failures may lie ahead, according to Michener.

“We recognize that doing a [competition] in this way […] has the potential to cause harm in ways [the climbing wall staff] don’t recognize,” Michener said. “We might make mistakes and we want to hear what those mistakes are so we can make it better for the future.”


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Lucas Arico is a sophomore communication major from Southern California. When he isn’t giving campus tours to prospective students, Lucas loves to have movie nights, go for night drives and hike with his friends.

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