Women’s-only gym hour campaign changes goals

The campaign for a women’s-only gym hour at Carleton had changed its goals in response to student feedback collected last semester.  

The revamped campaign is now championing women’s fitness programs that don’t restrict operations at Carleton’s gym, as opposed to a women’s-only gym hour, according to Sydney Schneider, the programming co-ordinator at the Womyn’s Centre.

Other goals include seeking improved sensitivity training, hiring more gender-diverse employees, and increasing promotion of women’s varsity sports in the Athletics facilities, Schneider said.

“These are concrete changes that will change the atmosphere at Athletics [and] will help with the male-dominated space and sexual violence in the facilities,” Schneider said.

Ashley Courchene, the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) vice-president (student services), said he agreed that updating the campaign goals to reflect students’ feedback was a good idea.

“I think this is a positive step in the right direction just to show that there’s a need to create safer spaces while not impeding on people’s routines,” Courchene said.

According to Courchene, the campaign considered student feedback gathered from social media, a survey, and consultations conducted during the fall semester.

While 85 per cent of survey respondents indicated they were in favour of a women’s-only gym hour, Schneider said students took issue with restricting gym access.

“The feedback from the survey and from consultations has really shown that people are concerned about not impeding regular gym hours. They don’t want to disrupt the Athletics facilities,” she said.

Jennifer Brenning, the director of recreation and athletics, said a group of Athletics staff is already looking into feasible improvements to women’s-only programs.

She said she agreed with Courchene and Schneider that Athletics staff do not have sufficient sensitivity training right now, and said she wants to see more training implemented.

According to Brenning, she met with Jen Sugar, director of student affairs, and Bruce Marshall, the manager of wellness programs at Athletics, in December to discuss backlash on social media before meeting with campaign leaders to adjust the campaign’s goals.

“We didn’t want students pitted against students on campus,” Brenning said.

She said she understands students’ concerns because the current fitness centre lacks the space to accommodate diverse needs.

“The challenge we have in Athletics is we have 30,000 faculty, staff, and students that are on campus and we have 11,000 square feet of fitness space, and in reality that should be double the space,” Brenning said.

While institutions like the University of Ottawa, Ryerson University and Queen’s University offer a women’s-only gym hour, Brenning said each of these universities has two fitness centres, whereas Carleton only has one.

Carleton’s fitness centre already offers approximately 10 women’s-only fitness programs, such as yoga classes and a swim hour, but the layout of the Athletics’ website leaves women in the dark, according to Brenning.

“You’d have to actually dig to find [the women’s only programs] and I think we need a way to promote that in a more succinct way,” she said.

She said that Athletics will be working to update their website to reflect women’s only programs more prominently, with a completion goal of September 2017.

Courchene said the campaign would continue to seek students’ feedback to ensure they are content with any changes to the fitness centre’s use of space.

“Moving forward, it’s about continuing to talk to students and Athletics to find the options that are most suitable to people,” he said.

Photo by Angela Tilley