Local Climbing Organizations Dive Into JEDI Work

Categories: LCO 101

One of the biggest revolutions to happen in the climbing community in the last few years has nothing to do with new gear or climbers putting up harder routes and boulder problems. Instead, it is all about how we see our role, and climbing's role, in the broader movement around social justice in America. That movement has pushed our community to grapple with the ways the outdoors have been, and still are, harder to access for some than others. Climbers have long been environmental advocates, but the notion that we should also be advocates for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) in the outdoors is a relatively new one—and it has taken hold of our community with remarkable speed.

An inclusive route development mentorship event at Inks Ranch in Texas, ancestral lands of Nʉmʉnʉʉ (Comanche). © Brian Tickle

The Case for Taking Up JEDI Work

Local climbing organizations (LCOs) across the nation have stepped up in the last year to begin the difficult and rewarding journey of integrating JEDI principles into their missions and internal structures.

“We got involved with JEDI to bring visibility to the barriers to climbing for groups that face oppression and to contribute to improving the climbing culture in the Bay Area,” says Nanda Guruswamy, JEDI Advocate for the Bay Area Climbers Coalition.

Jay Young, board member of the New River Alliance of Climbers adds: “NRAC got involved in JEDI simply because it’s the right thing to do.”

Yes, it’s the right thing to do. And on a pragmatic level, if we want to protect the places we love, we must have a robust constituency that is impassioned to step up and defend them, and this means welcoming new voices.

Getting Started

The ways that LCOs are engaging in JEDI work varies from region to region, encompassing a wide variety of issues ranging from route names to board diversity to scholarships and other programs to get more folks from underrepresented communities climbing.

“We began by solidifying relationships with diversity organizations within our climbing community,” says Chris Vultaggio, Gunks Climbers Coalition board member. “This launched with a blog series explaining JEDI and continues with interviews of local community organizations, ensuring these organizations know they are invited to be a part of our community events, and targeted gender and diversity training sessions for our board.”

Halfway across the country in Colorado, San Luis Valley Climbing Association president Angela Lee describes one of their first JEDI projects. “We created a Womxn plus Gender Nonconforming Climbing Night at the Adams State University gym. We also created a system for changing oppressive route names by collecting community input and collaborating with the authors and publisher of an upcoming guidebook.”

These early efforts have paid off. Guruswamy has been impressed and encouraged by the fact that their team has gotten more diverse in the past few years, including the voting board. For Young, the most exciting development has been the proliferation of JEDI-focused scholarships and programming. New organizations like Climbing for Change are making it easier than ever to get involved in this sort of programming, thanks to a premade scholarship template that many LCOs can use.

“Our board allocated funds for a Diversity in Guiding Scholarship, which just launched this month. I think programs like these will help grow the ranks of diverse leadership in climbing—and I’m starting to see them sprout like gardens,” says Young.

Embracing the Learning Curve

Though LCOs across the country have seen tangible progress, the learning curve to JEDI work is steep, and many challenges remain. For Young, it’s been the age-old problem of resistance to change from some members of his community. For Guruswamy, the lack of in-person meeting opportunities due to Covid-19 has made building partnerships more difficult. And many more obstacles exist, from needing more knowledge and experience on JEDI issues to simply having limited time to engage with another major LCO project.

But these obstacles should not prevent us from diving into JEDI: No effort is going to be perfect or without road bumps, and all of us, no matter how knowledgeable on JEDI, have more to learn.

“Although this work can be difficult and even divisive at times, LCOs are recognizing these changes can help shape our community for the better,” says Vultaggio.

One of the best ways for LCOs, and our community in general, to find solutions to the challenges we all face is to share what we've learned with each other. At Access Fund, we've been inspired and amazed by how many LCOs—more than 20 at last count—have reached out to us to brainstorm on JEDI initiatives. This is just the beginning of the JEDI journey for many LCOs, and we at Access Fund are incredibly excited to see what our community does in the years to come.

“We believe it’s critical that local communities are the ones leading this work, and finding their own ways, specific to their needs, of making climbing more accessible,” says Access Fund Policy & JEDI Associate, Taimur Ahamad “While it isn’t Access Fund’s place to tell folks how they should be doing JEDI work, we will be available to our community to provide support, resources, and connections that increase the impact our local partners have as advocates.”

A great example of LCOs forging their own path on JEDI comes from Lee and the SLVCA, who are working on a grassroots JEDI pledge. “Though initially a surface-level gesture, we hope that this pledge will drive LCOs to take tangible actions of solidarity at local and regional levels. By sharing existing JEDI initiatives and keeping tabs on new actions, LCOs who have signed on can keep each other accountable and learn from each other,” says Lee.

We encourage anyone interested in JEDI to reach out to Taimur Ahmad, Access Fund’s JEDI Associate. We would be thrilled to help you start the conversation.

Are you an LCO board member interested in getting involved with JEDI in the climbing community? Get in touch with Angela Lee for more information about the grassroots JEDI pledge currently in development. Also, stay tuned for an upcoming JEDI for LCOs webinar, where we’ll explore case studies of successful JEDI work being done by LCOs across the country.