University to begin reserved gym hours pilot

Training for staff and extended programming are also offered

Following calls to implement reserved hours for women and non-binary individuals at the University of Winnipeg’s fitness facilities, the university will begin a pilot program this fall.

From Sept. 24 to Dec. 8, there will be reserved hours at the Bill Wedlake Fitness Centre for women and non-binary individuals. The reserved hours pilot is part of a larger inclusive gym initiative, which seeks to make fitness spaces at the University of Winnipeg safer and more equitable for all students.

This pilot comes, in part, from a survey conducted by the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association last fall, which found that more than 50 per cent of all women and non-binary respondents did not feel entirely safe or comfortable exercising at the Bill Wedlake Fitness Centre.

The university is also working to address low participation rates among women at the fitness centre.

According to the University of Winnipeg student information system, 62 per cent of the student population identifies as female. However, that majority isn’t reflected in gym user stats.

“Only 40 per cent of fitness centre users are women … that’s a really low participation rate that we’re concerned about and that we want to address,” Dean Melvie, director of recreation facilities and services at the U of W, says.

While the initiative is more expansive than simply adding reserved hours, the specified time slots have remained one of its most contentious issues. Any quick look at comments on online news articles and discussion forums regarding the initiative show that there are those who do not agree with the implementation of reserved hours.

“Conceptually, it’s difficult,” Raven R., a fourth-year psychology student at the U of W, says. “I think it’s so important to talk about gender differences and issues surrounding that, but I think that just straight up displacing people based on their gender isn’t the solution.”

To these kinds of criticisms, Melvie finds it important to note that during reserved hours only one level of the fitness centre will be reserved at a time.

“The other level of the fitness centre will still be available to all users, and also the track and courts will be available to all users. So no one’s going to get turned away while reserved hours are underway,” Melvie says.

There are also those who support the reserved hours pilot.

“I think that this is a really good idea, especially if a lot of women or non-binary students aren’t feeling comfortable,” Denzel Soliven, a fourth-year kinesiology student says. “And for those who think it’s discriminating against men, you can really find other times. Two hours of it being (reserved) isn’t going to be the end of the world.”

Besides providing a reserved space and time for women and non-binary individuals, the U of W will also offer buddy programs and beginner instructional programs for new gym users and specific fitness and intramural programming for women and non-binary individuals.

The university is also taking steps to address the larger issue of people feeling uncomfortable outside of reserved hours by training their fitness staff in sexual misconduct protocol, by placing signage into the space that identifies it as a respectful environment and by developing a new code of conduct that is much more specific about the expectations of users and the consequences for failing to adhere to these rules.

“We take the safety of everyone very seriously, and we’re trying to show some concrete steps that support that,” Melvie says.

New reserved hours pilot schedule for women and non-binary folks: Mondays from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Lower level of the fitness centre. Thursdays from 1:30-3:30 p.m. Upper level of the fitness centre. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5:30-10 p.m. New fitness studio in the former Mondetta store space (second level of the Duckworth Centre).

Published in Volume 72, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 14, 2017)

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