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This article was published 26/9/2017 (1323 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
New rules at the University of Winnipeg reserving the use of gym facilities exclusively for women and some members of the LGBTTQ* community are being called discriminatory.
Student Joel Olfert said the changes, spearheaded by the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association and implemented Monday, are pushing a culture of exclusion under a veil of inclusion.
"Unfortunately, my access to the fitness centre will be limited during the reserved hours on the basis of my sex. I am concerned that limited access on the basis of sex will negatively impact the university’s culture of inclusion," the 21-year-old said.
Olfert said some students on campus are afraid to voice their frustration with the changes for fear of being labelled intolerant or sexist, although he couldn’t say how many students feel that way.
The changes are part of a pilot project that will run at the Duckworth Centre until Dec. 8. Should the project prove successful, members of the students’ association said they will look to continue it — and potentially expand the reserved hours.
The new rules set aside 17 hours per week during which specific gym facilities will be reserved for women and those who identify as non-binary (neither male or female). The lower level of the fitness centre is now reserved for two hours Monday, the upper level for two hours Thursday, and the fitness studio between 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. three days a week.
Olfert said his access to the gym facilities will now be limited because the reserved hours fall on times when he usually works out between classes. He said he may have to find another gym.
Members of the students’ association defended the project Tuesday.
"This initiative was based on what students were asking for. Every recommendation we’ve made was based on what we were hearing from a student survey," said Jade DeFehr, the association’s status of women director.
"It started off as a conversation in a classroom where more and more women kept raising their hands and sharing stories about times they felt intimidated, or reasons why they didn’t even want to use the gym. And usually that was because it was so male dominated."
In total, the reserved hours account for four per cent of total recreation time during the week. During the time areas of the gym are reserved, the remaining facilities are open to everyone.
The pilot program was created after DeFehr, students’ association president Laura Garinger and Megan Linton, vice-president of external affairs, conducted a survey of university students on their experiences using the gym. In total, more than 750 people responded.
While not everyone reported negative experiences, many said they were followed to washrooms or change rooms, denied access to equipment, experienced aggressive behaviour, intimidation and sexist, homophobic and transphobic slurs and comments, DeFehr said.
It’s these sorts of reports that led the women to get the ball rolling on the initiative.
The students’ association members said Tuesday they have received negative feedback, including an anonymous, intimidating note which was left for DeFehr.
"Some people who did not want the reserved hours... turned around and used homophobic, sexist language against people who were running the survey and the UWSA in general," said Garinger. "So I don’t see how people can say there’s not a problem. This isn’t about taking things away from people. It’s about trying to provide more space for others."
Olfert said that while he considers the initiative "well-intentioned," it’s ultimately discriminatory. He said he also believes it will be difficult to implement the changes, given that staff would have to guess someone’s gender identity.
While DeFehr acknowledged the association doesn’t yet have a way to deal with such cases, it is something being discussed should it prove to be an issue.
"Our stance is if anyone says they identify as a woman or non-binary, we’re not going to question them. But we still want to take it seriously if people are lying about their gender identity," DeFehr said.
"The gym staff are aware of people who have been complaining about the initiative, so I think they are aware of some individuals who may be interested in crashing the reserved hours or using the space maliciously," Garinger added.
The UWSA hopes the pilot program will lead to more women and non-binary people feeling comfortable and safe using the gym — which is funded by all students through tuition.
They also stress that any students with concerns are more than welcome to approach members of the students’ association to have a conversation about what the changes look like and why the student association feels they’re needed.
"This is still a process and we’ll continue to look at new ways to make the university gym more accessible," Linton said.
"By no means does everyone now feel safe in the gym, nor does this mean that before everyone felt unsafe in the gym. It just means we’re continuing to work towards creating a space where everyone who wants to use it, can use it."
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.