Harvard restricts gym hours

For a few hours a week, a gym at Harvard University is now closed to men. Harvard’s institution of all-female gym hours has caused a nationwide debate as to the appropriateness of such measures at university fitness centers.

The movement at Harvard was prompted by a request from a group of Muslim women who wanted to utilize gym facilities but for religious reasons did not want to work out in the company of men. The women, who all lived in the same dormitory, pitched the idea to their housemaster in February, according to The New York Times.

According to Muslim tradition, men and women must only wear modest clothing when in the presence of one another. The Muslim students felt that workout clothing was a clear violation of the modesty stipulation. Their religious tradition also prohibits them from lying down in front of a man before marriage, which can get in the way of certain exercise positions.

Harvard took action within the month, instituting all-female hours at the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center on Mondays from 3 to 5 p.m. and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 to 10 a.m., according to The New York Times. The Quadrangle Center is the closest gym to the women who made the request.

Harvard is not the only university to take action towards female-only gym hours. At universities across the nation, the decision has been made not only because of religious purposes, but also because some women simply do not want to work out with men.

Wheaton College, Kalamazoo College, and St. John’s College have all made changes in order to account for female fitness preferences. Wheaton even established a dance fitness class only for women, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Sophomore ethics, history, and public policy major Anna Goddard related to the concerns of these female students.
“It can be intimidating to work out when there are a lot of men around,” she said. “In my weight lifting class this semester, I’m one of the only girls. I can definitely understand where these students are coming from.”

However, the movements at all of these institutions have not gone without their problems.

Kalamazoo College, for example, only has one gym, so all-female hours leave men completely without gym access at that time.

Harvard has many gyms and consequently, the restriction of one is not as significant, especially because the gym is one of the least-used on campus.

According to The New York Times, Harvard has not reported an increase in gym use since designating the all-female hours.

Carnegie Mellon does not currently offer any female specific hours or fitness classes.

However, Joan Maser, associate director of athletics, noted that there are many options available for women or for other students who prefer to work out without men or in gym off-hours.
“The weight room can be intimidating, but there are smaller, more comfortable gyms in dorms,” Maser said.

Maser also noted the availability of Donna Morovsky, director of fitness and facilitator of the Healthy Campus 2010 initiative for the athletic department, in meeting with students and planning a workout schedule.

However, according to Mike Mastroianni, assistant director of athletics for university programs and intramural and club sports, the issue of all-female hours has never been a concern at Carnegie Mellon.

“If there’s something students want, they would say something about it,” he said.

Mastroianni receives all student requests and suggestions for gym facilities and said that he has never received anything resembling a group asking for all-female hours.
Matroianni also noted that the institution of such initiatives would not change gym numbers.

“People that want to go are going to go no matter what,” he said.

Matroianni and Maser both expressed that the Carnegie Mellon gender ratio of gym users is about even and does not differ from national figures.

However, they lamented at the small number of students, male and female, that turn out to fitness groups and regular gym hours.

In 2006, Carnegie Mellon was ranked the second least-fit college or university in the nation by Men’s Fitness. The ranking took into account the numbers of students at the gym each day and involved in athletic teams, classes, and activities.

Mastroianni blamed the small numbers of students partly on the academic rigor of Carnegie Mellon classes.

“Most students here are locked into the demands of their majors,” he said.

Mastroianni said that the availability of such diverse clubs and student organizations only add to students’ time commitments.

Jill Perkins, a sophomore creative writing major, agreed with Mastroianni.

“I would like to go to the gym, but it always seems like I have paper to write or some other assignment that needs to be finished first. I just have to keep putting it off until it never actually happens,” she said.

Mastroianni noted that it is often hard to add going to the gym into a daily or weekly routine. He suggested intramural clubs and sports as alternatives since there is no long-term commitment, and the relaxed atmosphere can help balance the life of an already-stressed student.

Both Mastroianni and Maser noted that resources are available for students to meet their fitness demands, whatever they may be.

“The information is all there, so it’s only a matter of students getting it,” Maser said.