Today I am so excited to share an interview with such an inspiring woman, Bethany Lebewitz. I met Bethany online through Instagram as she was creating her page @BrownGirlsClimb to highlight and encourage diversity within the climbing community. We instantly connected as two women with similar stories, a passion for science and of course, a passion for climbing. In the short time I’ve known her she’s been a wealth of knowledge and a huge inspiration to me.
I hope this interview series continues each month as I highlight someone who I find has a unique perspective and is doing incredible things within the climbing community. I find it exhaustingly boring to write only about myself. I also find that I harbor a good deal of frustration for so many ideas surrounding privilege, women and minorities within the climbing community and our society as a whole. I cannot think of a better way to refocus my grievances into something more productive: choosing to celebrate those making the positive changes I wish to do and see more of.
Here’s the interview, enjoy!
M: First thing’s first: tell us your name, where you’re from and what you do!
B: Hi, I am Bethany Lebewitz! I am about to turn 29 (Jan 13th!). I’m from Cut and Shoot, TX but I currently live in Maryland about 30 minutes north of DC! I recently graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas and now work as a research assistant at a pediatric behavioral phenotyping lab. I like to climb and bike in my free time and am currently learning how to play the autoharp!
M: How did you first get exposed to rock-climbing?
B: My very first encounter with plastic was in highschool during a science class. Our topic was principles of physics and we were fortunate enough to have a teacher that petitioned for us to go to a rock climbing gym and drop little plastic parachute soldiers off of some of the boulders! It was really fun but I honestly don’t remember whether I enjoyed the climbing or not. I did like the applied science though 🙂
Later in my life, I was out of my first long term relationship and was searching for something empowering to do and learn. I walked into Austin Rock Gym (south) and said I wanted to try climbing. They explained since I was by myself, I could try the auto-belay or bouldering. At the time, I was nervous about the heights (and I’m still quite hesitant) so I opted for bouldering. I loved it!
M: What interrupted your first experience with school?
B: Trying to pay for school, housing, books, and transportation was really stressful. I had worked since I was 15 years old but I was not prepared for balancing working and going to school full time. I had lots of panic attacks and eventually quit. I needed some time to adjust and a lot of time to learn how to find resources for school.
M: You’ve started an Instagram account called @BrownGirlsClimb. What was the inspiration behind this page?
B: I started BrownGirlsClimb (BGC) because one of my challenges for myself this year was to be an advocate in every aspect of my life. My hope for BGC is to share the diverse stories and faces of the climbing community. I’m half Mexican and half caucasian/white. I was blessed with the darker complexion of my mother and this provided me with a very unique and often challenging experience. It can be isolating to walk into a place and realize you are the darkest one in the room. I have taken friends climbing for their first time and we’ve talked about having this feeling at the gym. That’s always difficult to hear. Whether it’s a economically or culturally driven trait, I don’t want that isolation to discourage anyone from trying climbing.
Climbing is a major aspect of my self-care and I think many people share this perspective. For me, climbing is a really affordable way to maintain my mental and physical health. If, through BGC, we can encourage others to try climbing for the first time or encourage those already climbing to continue then this is a success!
There are a few main reasons I think it’s important. Community is important. We’re social beings and especially, with a sport like climbing, the encouragement helps. It’s especially useful when you are surrounded by people that share other experiences with you. Sometimes it can be as serious as understanding the intricacies of racism in America and other times it’s as simple as sharing the memory of homemade menudo. For each one of us, climbing serves a specific purpose. Finding a community that you can connect with can be an important piece of unlocking some of the fears or self-doubt that can interfere with our projects outside.
The second point is a bit more general but is an important subject to me. Obesity, along with other health-related issues such as diabetes and heart disease, disproportionately affect minority populations, specifically Hispanic/Latino and Black/African American communities (https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov). Representation helps show our communities that the activities fun, available and there are athletes of all different colors, ages and shapes that are trying to move. Physical activity helps support so many systems to keep our body and mind healthy. It’s one of the few things that is really free in life. Not all outdoor recreation is free but spreading the word about accessibility can help!
Lastly, the more diversity we have on the crag, the beach, or in the sky, the better. Innovation comes from perspective and our ability to live more fully, in my eyes, comes our willingness to share and participate with our brothers in sisters of other creeds.
M: What role does mentorship play in your life and climbing?
Mentorship has changed my parent’s life and my own. From both my experience and my education, I have learned that if you desire significant changes if your life, changing your environment and influences is often a critical piece. I have mentors now that are 22 to 88 years old. They are all different but they teach me how to grow in new ways. Without many of my mentors, I wouldn’t be in the place I am today. I am the first in my family to obtain a degree. I have a loving and supportive partner. I get to climb for fun and, everyday, I get to go work to serve families in need of some encouragement. It’s a blessing. As far as climbing goes, I currently don’t have a mentor although I think this would be wonderful. My brother, however, has played a big role in mentoring and training me physically. He’s a self-trained athlete who has overcome a lot himself. He keeps me grounded and reminds me how resilient our family is both physically and mentally.
M: Women of color in the sciences is also less common. How did you get involved in neuroscience and what advice would you give to other women looking to work in the sciences?
The STEM fields were never on my radar of possibilities. I thought it was for sure out of reach for someone like me. I really never considered it until I realized that my all my questions about human development were about the brain! When I first decided to return to school, I wanted to explore early childhood trauma and how these incidences influenced us. I let my most motivating questions drive the decisions I made about school. It was scary but I try to trust God in these moments where I am really unsure if I can trust myself or my situation. I think that’s my biggest advice for someone considering STEM: Think about your favorite topics. We all have questions. How do these questions drive you? Follow that path. Sure it can be scary but so is climbing or learning anything new. No one likes being the novice but we have to start somewhere. Trust that your curiosity will place you in position to be successful. It takes a lot of hard work and there’s always hiccups but I think you’ll walk away satisfied of what you discovered and, hopefully, hungry for more!
I just wanted to say thank you again for everyone who has shared their story with BrownGirlsClimb. It’s been a major personal encouragement and is a reminder about how beautiful God is. Sharing stories unites us and allows us to draw strength from one another. It’s really incredible to me. Thanks again!