4 Ways LCOs Can Make the Climbing Community More Inclusive

Categories: LCO 101

Being inclusive of others—a true and deep effort to understand and welcome folks with different lived experiences than one’s own—is the foundation of any organization's work to foster diversity, equity, and justice. Inclusion is about bringing new folks into your community and also about ensuring that everyone already in it, regardless of background, has the same access to your community’s rights, resources, and responsibilities. It is fundamental to the success of all of the other aspects of JEDI (justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion) work.

Credit Photo Courtesy of:
Irene Yee

Why Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Matter for Climbers

For some, the simple act of going climbing may not seem like something that is tied up in social movements, but many folks—whether because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other identities—do not feel able to, or even safe, participating in climbing and other outdoor recreation activities.
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There’s no single, cut-and-dried way for your local climbing organization (LCO) to practice inclusion, but here are a few ways to get started, accompanied by real-world case studies to illustrate how these tactics look in practice.

1. Reach Out, Listen, and Learn

    Learning from the people you are trying to include is an essential first step. Without understanding the needs and values of the people you are intersecting with, you will not be able to create a truly welcoming environment. When reaching out to have conversations and build partnerships, it is crucial to be mindful of two factors: first, the labor you are asking for, and second, that these conversations are about listening. In other words, it’s not about what a given individual, community, or organization can do for you and your JEDI goals, but about how you can serve them and their needs. When you ask someone to educate you on their perspective, you are asking for their labor. Be cognizant of this, and respect the fact that the folks you are reaching out to may not have the time, energy, or desire to engage in the conversations you want to have at that time. It’s also important to note that these conversations don’t need to be solely within the climbing or even outdoor-recreation communities. Look outside your comfort zone for organizations and partners invested in JEDI principles that aren’t necessarily directly related to climbing or the outdoors.

    Case Studies & Resources

    • The Climbing Association of Southern Arizona hosted a conversation with local Indigenous climbers and community members to learn more about how climbers could support tribes and climb respectfully on tribal lands.
    • Climbers of Color and Diversify Outdoors both have great lists of organizations and individuals active at the intersection of JEDI and outdoor recreation. See which ones are in your local area and how your LCO might be able to learn from and support them.

    2. Extend the Invitation

    Don’t just make opportunities to engage available—intentionally extend the invitation to the people and communities you’ve been learning from. This step is simple and yet at the core of all inclusion work. Choose to actively bring people in—both those new to your community and those who are already a part of it but may face barriers to engaging fully. Then, do the necessary work to support them, in whatever ways they need. This can be difficult, and misunderstanding can easily lead to tension, but discomfort is where growth happens. Building a broader, more welcoming community is impossible without making it clear that people from all backgrounds aren’t simply allowed in but are positively desired.

    Case Studies & Resources

    • In early 2020, Access Fund opened a new, undeveloped climbing area in Texas known as Inks Ranch. Facilitated by our Texas regional director, local route developers began coordinating the process of putting up first ascents (FA). It quickly became apparent that there were no women, especially women of color, involved in the FA process. To remedy this, the group reached out to local affinity groups to gauge interest among their memberships for route development. This resulted in an informal mentoring program that paired women who were interested in establishing new routes with experienced developers, creating a far more diverse crew of climbers doing FAs at Inks Ranch.
    • The Memphis Rox climbing gym in Memphis, Tennessee, is a remarkable example of many of the inclusion best practices discussed here. By intentionally locating the gym in an underserved community, operating on a “pay what you can” model, and creating accessible youth programming to get local kids involved in climbing, Memphis Rox has built inclusion into multiple levels of their operation.

    3. Examine Your Communications Materials

    Your communications materials speak volumes about who you believe belongs at the crag. Before someone is comfortable high-stepping on a pebble a body length above their last pro, they need to be able to see themselves out there in the first place. Look critically at your communications materials. What genders, colors, ages, abilities, and disciplines of climbing (among many other factors) are present? Making sure that your visual communications materials represent the diversity of the nation is an effective early step to show that all are welcome out at the crag and in your organization. Similarly, if your organization puts out member profiles, blog posts, or other written materials, make sure the stories you tell encompass a multitude of perspectives.

    Case Studies & Resources

    • Following the death of George Floyd, the Southeastern Climbers Coalition made an intentional and sustained effort to highlight the voices of their members of color.
    • Several different types of organizations have created materials in languages besides English. For example, Touchstone climbing gyms have their waiver available in Spanish, and Access Fund translated our COVID-19 guidance into Spanish as well.

    4. Make Events Accessible

    The economic, physical, and emotional accessibility of your events will influence who can come and how they will feel once they get there. What is the financial burden of getting to your next event? What about the time commitment involved in traveling there and taking part? Have you considered physical accessibility—is there a way for differently abled folks to participate? What does the advertising for your event look like? Does it make clear, through both words and images, that the event will be a space where all sorts of people are welcome? Taking the time to get the details right will ensure your gatherings are places where all can thrive.

    Case Studies & Resources

    • Scholarships can be a simple and effective way of making an event more accessible. Every year, TheCliffs climbing gyms, based in New York, sponsor a member of their community to go to the Color the Crag climbing festival in Horse Pens 40, Alabama. Check out the stories of awardees here and here. Though many LCOs may not have the funds to create an endowed scholarship themselves, partnering with businesses like climbing gyms can help develop long-term support for such programs.
    • Paradox Sports is a community leader in making climbing accessible to people with a full spectrum of physical abilities. Check out their programming for ideas on how to create opportunities for differently abled climbers at your next event.
    • The Bureau of Land Management is in the early stages of developing an ADA-accessible crag within the Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, California. Consider if your next stewardship project could potentially incorporate ADA guidelines as you go about the standard work of building and repairing trails, staging areas, and landings.
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    © Adventure Visionaries

    Going Deeper: 3 Ways LCOs Can Continue to Foster Inclusivity

    Ready to go deeper? Educating your membership and adjusting your organizational structure may be needed to foster true inclusivity.
    Part 2