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The Scarlet & Black

Students reach for inclusivity at climbing wall

Duncan Ward ‘20 hangs out on the climbing wall in the Bear. Photo by Alexandra Fontana.

The rock-climbing wall of Grinnell College, nestled in the lower level of the Bear Recreation and Athletic Center, is known by its regulars for offering an inclusive and welcoming environment for those who want to exercise both their minds and their bodies.

Duncan Ward ’20 and Tori LaVerdiere ’20, the student managers of the wall, say they have worked to transform the climbing wall into the positive and inviting space that it is today.

“The wall had a very bro culture when I [started coming] my very first year,” said LaVerdiere. “I was one of two women who would climb [alongside] a lot of very strong dudes, who made the wall kind of too hard for other people to climb. It wasn’t very welcoming, and people wouldn’t really talk to you. I had this epiphany, like this is such an underutilized resource at the College, so we just started trying to promote it this year.”

LaVerdiere was inspired to visit the wall because she grew up climb- ing and wanted to continue doing so in college. Ward, on the other hand, was a beginner looking to explore a different form of exercise when he started climbing at the wall his second year.

“A lot of people come here to try something new. A lot of them are ad- venturous spirits who have not necessarily tried this kind of adventure before, which [creates] a really cool environment [where] everybody’s supporting every person [at whatever stage] they’re at,” said LaVerdiere.

Hudson Clulow ’23 went climbing for their first time in August but now works at the climbing wall and strives to make it a safe space for all.

“We’re trying to introduce people who might otherwise feel kind of uncomfortable being in the Bear,” said Clulow. “I connected with TAG, the Trans Advocacy Group, to see if we could get trans people at the wall, because in other facilities at the Bear, I would feel really intimidated, even though I’m somewhat cis-passing, so I don’t even know what it would be like to be not passing to try and walk into that space.”

The three climbing employees agree that they’re excited about the possibilities they see for the climbing wall in the future. The three hope that by hosting climbing events for other student organizations and the community, the space will be more widely used and appreciated. Ward says he is most frustrated that the student leaders are not provided with what he deems the proper resources to accomplish the projects they are passionate about and want to see done.

“Administration has to say that having a supportive place for people to exercise that’s not the weight room is in line with their values, and they should provide the resources that we need to make more happen,” said Ward. “The students are asked to step up a lot at this facility. This place has a lot of potential. It’s really cool to see what it’s started to become this year, and I just hope that momentum can build.”

Ward spent the summer resetting the bouldering wall to make the course more approachable. Students can also use free climbing shoes and chalk offered at the wall, making it easy for those with little to no climb- ing experience to start climbing while at Grinnell.

“On a lot of the boulders, you have to try and figure out how to put your body weight in the place that you need to be to grab onto stuff, so it’s not necessarily an exercise of how strong you are. It’s more like where should you be putting your body to do the least physical work,” said Clulow. “I think it’s cool that you can come in with varying levels of experience and strength, and all that matters is how quickly you’re picking up on technique.”

Whether a total newbie or the next Alex Honnold, the climbing wall is open to practice technique and meet people who want to be active in a mindful and creative way. Regular hours are 4:15 to 6:15 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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