The Alpine Tower
When one of the male climbers was unable to make the ascent, he came down, angry at himself, and said "I feel like a woman...you know, a wuss." This comment offered the opportunity for intervention and comment. Did failure or lack of strength equate with being female? How did the tiny woman belaying him feel, when she had been the one person keeping him from falling to the ground? How did he feel saying that to the person who had his life in her hands? Are being a female and a wuss the same?
When you are accustomed to athletic triumphs, how do you deal with athletic failure? If you don't blame yourself (men don't), do you blame someone else (the women, the Tower)? If the Tower humbled you, how are you going to deal with that -- try again, give up, find a different route up? How do these issues translate into your everyday life or your professional engineering life? Will you be able to be supportive of the women when it's their turn to climb?
Climbing the Tower brought many personal achievement, trust, and group issues to the fore. Quite a few of the people who thought they would be able to run up the Tower didn't on their first try, but eventually did. Many of the students who thought there was no way they could do this not only did it, but got to the top, sometimes risking many of the tricky climbing devices, such as cargo nets, knotted rope, and logs.
Noted one student: "I proved [to myself] that I could do things that I went in expecting to fail at." Trying your best, trying again, trying alternative routes, getting over personal fears, dealing with heights and risky physical impediments, and trusting in the team below who held your safety rope were the real goals.
A number got only part way up, but were happy with that, feeling that they did their very best. "I didn't care that I didn't get to the top [of the Tower] -- I was amazed by where I got." A few failed on their first try and gave up. Another student wrote: "I learned something about how I deal with fear and self-disappointment."
Teams cheered their members, the groups cheered for other teams. Teams shouted instructions to climbers who often couldn't see the best route up close and cheered them on when they wanted to give up: "I got satisfaction from [belaying] and helping others to the top."
The debriefings allowed students the chance to talk about their own personal triumphs or fear of heights, to comment on what motivated them, and to share their feelings of success or failure with others. Those who got to the top (perhaps knowing it wasn't that easy) didn't lord it over those who didn't get there, and everyone commented on the trust they had in their teammates. Two typical comments are: "The experience made me know and make use of [my] resources, especially other people." and "Now, I feel less afraid and insecure about new situations than before."
The Tower raised issues often found in the workplace and in academia when women work in a predominantly male profession. The Tower offered a physical challenge and a problem-solving setting in which smaller, non-athletic women found themselves to be as triumphant and able as their stronger colleagues. It offered an environment for male-female teamwork, and the men found themselves admiring the tenacity and, sometimes, competitive spirit of the women. One female engineer commented: "I can go farther than I've gone before. I shouldn't set any limitations for myself...I'm stronger than I would have ever guessed."
By the way, our male climber made it to the top on his second try, belayed by the same woman (who also got near the top), and urged on by instructions from the other teams below.
(go back home)