Space To Work Out

Initiative wants to know if you feel comfortable in our gym

Jade DeFehr, Status of Women Director, UWSA, in front of Duckworth.


Are our campus gym resources accessible and welcoming? One student group is trying to answer that question.

The Inclusive Gym Initiative is conducting an on-campus survey to find out about students’ visions for the Duckworth Center and Recplex.

“The goal is to try and promote safer spaces and equitable participation for all students at the U of W,” Jade DeFehr, Status of Women director, says, “Accessing more of the services that they pay for, like the gym … not everyone feels comfortable using them.”

The Inclusive Gym Initiative was formed by DeFehr and Jacq Pellend, LGBT Director, in May 2016. Currently, the survey has just under 400 responses. The goal is to get 700 or more. 

“We ask general questions about how people identify,” DeFehr says. “But the main question we are looking closely at is if there is anything that is preventing (students) from feeling more safe and comfortable at the gym and the answers so far are different compared to men, non-binary people and women.”

DeFehr responds specifically to the possibility of women and non-binary people-only gym hours, something which other Canadian universities, such as Ryerson and the University of Toronto,  have already done.

“Lots of people started talking about segregation, which is a very racially charged term to be using,” DeFehr says. “Segregation is very different from safer spaces … segregation is applied forcefully by the dominant group, whereas safer spaces are asked for by the people who are marginalized.”

DeFehr says this initiative is trying to address an imbalance in who we currently see attending the gym and ensure that those who do not feel safe or welcome are given a space and time to do so. 

“I think safer spaces are in many ways similar to bike lanes … they were created out of the recognition that some people feel less safe and comfortable on the road,” DeFehr explains. 

“By designating certain spaces as only for cyclists – even though drivers will then have slightly less space to themselves – roads become safer and more inclusive for everybody.” 

But specific gym hours aren’t the main goal of the initiative, they’re just one possibility, DeFehr says, explaining that the long term goal is for everyone to feel comfortable accessing the gym.

“The discussion came up very much in the context of our gym, but we’re not the only campus that’s talking about an initiative like this,” Dean Melvie, Director of Athletic and Wellness Facilities, says. “We don’t necessarily need to recreate the wheel here, there is an active discussion going on and I think we want to be a part of that discussion.” 

Melvie was approached by the initiative and looks forward to working with them to engaging in discussion with everyone who uses the facilities, ensuring that options about how to best utilize gym space are explored and all voices are heard. 

“In this case we’re at the beginning point of this discussion,” Melvie says, “so we want to engage the campus community before making any changes.”

Melvie says gym managers are in the process of reviewing gym rules that would capture the inclusive gym initiatives’ points on harassment policy in its wording. A handbook outlining an improved code of conduct will also be released. 

“We want to have as many individuals using the facilities as we possibly can” Melvie says. “If there are groups of students and groups on campus who aren’t using the space, we want to figure out who those groups are and then we want to find ways to improve access for them.” 

Published in Volume 71, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 15, 2016)

Related Reads