Before understanding why DEI is important in rock climbing, let’s clear up what DEI is. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion refers to initiatives to reach full representation in race, gender, ethnicity, and identity. As climbing continues to grow as a sport, it is important to bring intentionality into its development. When community spaces are left untended, the loudest voices can easily dominate. This further marginalize those who were lacking representation or solidarity. DEI is a pathway towards ensuring a more accessible future within climbing.
The Present State
In 2019, the American Alpine Club noted in its State of Climbing publication that 85% of the member respondents to its annual survey and 82% of non-members were white. This is starkly disproportionate to the 62% representation in the U.S. population seen in the 2020 census. A similar discrepancy is seen in the number of climbers who identify as male (72%/58% for AAC members/non-members). It’s one thing to see the issue simply looking at these numbers, and other to feel its effects. As a result of these disparities, many climbers of color feel unwelcome in a white- and male-dominated space.
Addressing the Issues
Affinity groups like NC BIPoC Climbers aim to address the diversity issue in climbing by creating safe spaces for people who share an identity. The larger climbing community may view itself as passively welcoming in that it doesn’t openly discriminate. Passively welcoming is not the same as openly inviting. There is a difference between saying, “you are welcome at this space” and “this space was built with you in mind”. Thus, the goal of NC BIPoC Climbers is to make these much-needed spaces.
However, simply accommodating people of varying backgrounds does not solve the issue of representation. The disparities seen in climbing’s demographics and leadership implicate the risk of bringing marginalized people into unsafe spaces under the cover of diversity. Equitable and inclusive access requires acknowledging these issues before providing a path towards correcting the issue.
Every person should have the opportunity to experience climbing. For many, it is an opportunity to experience freedom, nature, and the thrill of accomplishment. Unfortunately, for many others, the climbing community itself forms a barrier to these experiences. DEI programs are a pathway to correcting the imbalance in climbing access. You can help by supporting these programs in your community and local climbing gym.