Creating a safer space in the gym

Steps taken in the wake of the Inclusive Gym Initiative survey and pilot project

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

In the fall of 2017, the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) recreation services undertook a pilot project in partnership with the UW Students' Association (UWSA) that saw reserved gym hours for women and non-binary people.

A year later, the U of W continues the initiative of creating a safe space in the gym.

Jade Defehr, UWSA vice-president of student affairs, says there is great interest in reserved gym hours.

“On the survey that proposed the reserved hours, we got 756 responses, which is pretty huge for a student survey,” she says. “Of that, a majority of woman and non-binary respondents said they were either somewhat interested or very interested in using reserved hours.”

Defehr also gives credit to Jacq Pelland, UWSA’s LGBT* director at the time, who spearheaded the campaign.

“It was really a collective effort that had tangible changes to how people interact in the space today and the services that the university is trying to offer.”

According to Defehr, the survey was up for three months, and the pilot project that saw the reserved hours implemented went from September to December of 2017.

“We’re still in conversation with recreation services about next steps,” Defehr says. “We met with them quite a bit last year. I felt that they really listened to all of the recommendations and concerns that we brought forward.”

Dean Melvie, director of recreation services at the U of W, says several changes have been implemented.

“After experimentation with two phases of the reserved hours pilot project, we’ve decided to continue with a format that was well received by participants,” Melvie says. “A six-week introductory program was offered last winter to help women and non-binary individuals become comfortable in the Fitness Centre. Given the initial success of the program, the same format will be offered again.”

Melvie says specific hours will be reserved for woman and non-binary students in the Fitness Studio, which was formerly the Mondetta Space. These hours have yet to be announced.

“A new code of conduct has been created,” Melvie says. “The code clarifies expectations for all participants and consequences for inappropriate behaviour.”

Melvie also indicates changes to signage, staff training and spatial organization that will help to create a safer space for all gym goers.

In addition to reserved hours, a free fitness beginner program will be offered for women and non-binary members of the Fitness Centre, Melvie says.

“The program will include a variety of activities, including instruction on how to use free weights, weight resistance machines, stretching, cardio machines and using different areas of the recreation facilities.”

The program is offered this fall from Oct. 10 to Nov. 21. More sessions are to come, Melvie says.

Melvie also says students play an important role in creating a safe and welcoming environment.

“The best thing students can do is participate and respectfully support each other.”

Defehr encourages students to come forward either to the UWSA or recreation services if they have any suggestions or concerns regarding accessing the gym space or any other areas on campus.

The survey and report for the Inclusive Gym Initiative can be found at

Published in Volume 73, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 18, 2018)

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