Harvard gym should accomodate all students
At the beginning of this semester, Harvard University decided to close the doors of one of its gyms for six hours a week — but only to men. The policy was in response to a request by a group of female Muslim students on campus, who said that it violated their religious beliefs to work out in front of men because of the revealing nature of exercise clothes and positions.
Although six hours a week may not seem like much, the decision has left many men and women at Harvard feeling angry, and justifiably so. Harvard is a secular university, and this policy goes past accommodating a religious group; instead, it imposes unfair restrictions on the men of Harvard, while further offending students of both genders who feel the policy clashes with the institution’s ideals.
University gyms are resources that should be equally available to all students. Harvard’s policy inconveniences male gym users during the women’s-only hours, while not providing any men’s-only hours to at least balance the restrictions.
Moreover, Harvard’s new women’s-only gym hours are underutilized by the students they are meant to accommodate; in a March 21 article, The New York Times reported a typical turnout of about 15 people during peak gym hours. A March 4 article on CNN.com told of an Associated Press reporter standing outside of the restricted gym during the women’s-only hours without seeing a single student enter.
Harvard is in a unique position as one of the country’s leading universities, and as such its policies influence the academic community at large. Although Harvard isn’t the only university with gender-based gym restrictions, it is the most prominent, and we’re concerned with the imbalance in the precedent set by the policy.
Despite our frustrations with the restricted hours, we cannot condemn Harvard’s efforts to listen to its students. Administrators will evaluate the gym policy at the end of the academic year, and we hope that Harvard will continue to respect student opinions during this review. Ideally, the school should listen to both the female students in favor of this policy as well as students against it, and perhaps adjust the policy, either by adding men’s-only hours or eliminating gender restrictions altogether.