The muscles in your arms grow fatigued as you dangle precariously off the wall while trying to figure out the next best move. Your left hand is gripping onto a rock far above your head, and your right hand is pressing off a round rock to your other side. A pause is needed as you listen to K’lena Schnack, a student rock wall worker and the creator of women’s plus climb night, explain to you the rocks that you can shift to. Shouts of encouragement encompass the gym from the other girls and people who are watching you progress up the wall. You take a deep breath and move your right hand forward.
The UNO climbing wall is located on the first floor of the H & K Center and is a place where students and visitors can go for a unique kind of workout. Recently, Schnack introduced a women’s plus climb night so that it might create a safe space for new climbers to feel at ease.
“Right now, [the name of it] is women’s plus climb night, so it welcomes people that might not identify on the gender binary that our society has. So, if someone wants to climb that’s nonbinary, or identifies with a gender that faces discrimination or that is underrepresented, we try to make sure they’re included in that space as well, because rock climbing is mostly male dominated.”
Schnack pitched the idea of women’s plus climb night to Joel Bauch, the Associate Director of Programs and Services at Campus Recreation and Wellness and OVC Coordinator, and they started it at the beginning of the 2023 spring semester.
“I believe it is a beneficial program,” Bauch said. “The idea is to create a welcoming space for women, and those who identify as women, to participate in climbing free of male influences on the scene. These folks may enjoy climbing in the women+ environment and may continue to come for that experience. Some patrons may be building skills and confidence in climbing and will transition to using the climbing wall during normal operational hours. Either way, the Outdoor Venture Center (OVC) is committed to creating a space and time to encourage a wider diversity of climbing wall users.”
Schnack noticed from the start of her time at the wall the stark difference in male and female attendance and wanted to do something about it. According to Schnack, the ratio of women to men climbers is approximately 30 to 70.
“I started climbing back in September of 2021, and I was brought into climbing with a bunch of guys around me. I was taught by guys, learned how to belay–and all these other technical skills–by guys,” Schnack said. “So, when I started working at the rock wall, I noticed that we weren’t really investing in the women that we do have at the wall right now. We have a lot of female dedicated climbers, it’s just that we don’t invest our time in them, teach them technical skills, or have trained women available to teach them. I just really wanted to find a space to empower women. I’ve seen other gyms do that, and I felt like we had the space and the capacity to do that for the women at our wall.”
Having a safe space for people at women’s plus climb night is the bottom line. Many don’t feel comfortable and need that extra boost of confidence being around other women and people that make them feel comfortable.
“Women have only been in recreational sports since our grandparents’ generation. So, I think it’s important for women to have a space to ourselves, because we want to be around other women who do it too. We also don’t want to be intimidated, or nervous, or have that pressure that surrounds the sexualization of women in sports. I want to be able to wear a sports bra and leggings at the rock wall because I am hot, and because I’m working out,” Schnack said. “I don’t want to be fearful that someone’s going to stare at me or sexualize my body.”
The idea of a women’s plus climb night has encouraged many newcomers to the wall that may not have tried it out otherwise.
“I had only gone [rock climbing] one other time before, during break, but I am still pretty new to the sport. The women’s climb night helped encourage me to continue going in an environment that felt safe and judgment free. While I go other days, I always look forward to Sundays because of it,” Jenna Mullendore said.
The plans for the women’s plus climb night are not set in stone yet. It may become monthly or bi-annual, but they have many plans for it in the future.
“At women’s climb night, we essentially just climb. It’s open from six-to-eight o’clock on Sundays, but it might change. We have women workers there and eventually we want to get to the point where we are providing a belay class if anyone wants to get belay certified. That is the goal moving forward, but right now it’s just climbing with other women. We have some programming ideas, but again, it’s just so new that we haven’t gotten there yet,” Schnack said.
Women’s plus climb night has created a safe space for people to come in and climb to their hearts’ content, creating memories and new relationships in the process.
“In order for us to see change at the rock wall and see that change of 30% women versus 70% men, we really need to invest in programs that are going to get women in our wall,” Schnack said. “They’re not going to come in if we just say, ‘come climb with us.’ We have to engage with them and provide opportunities for them. I think that is important in showing that we care about women at our wall. I think it’s important for women to see that other women want to support them and see them thrive.”