Athletics Department Must Address Accessibility Concerns

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In an announcement to the student body on March 3, Director of Athletics and Physical Education Natalie Winkelfoos introduced “The Zen Zone” pilot program to Philips gym. From the hours of 9–11 a.m. and 1–3 p.m. every weekday, The Zen Zone will prohibit music filtered through speakers — only personal devices with headphones attached will be allowed. Additionally, no varsity team practices will occur during quiet hours.

Winkelfoos explained that the changes to the gym’s schedule were intended to increase accessibility for patrons: “We are hopeful these piloted hours will offer a ‘zen-like zone’ for those who desire a quieter space as they seize their wellness aspirations,” she said. Having a quieter environment will certainly make the gym more comfortable for some users. However, since recent logistical issues have forced Philips to cancel women and trans only hours at the gym, the swift and apparently relatively painless initiation of quiet hours seems like a slap in the face to advocates of the safe space hours.

The Student Health Working Group is in communication with student athletes, Athletics administrators and Meredith Raimondo, Title IX Coordinator and special assistant to the President for equity, inclusion and diversity. Logistical concerns were raised about gender-based discrimination against gym patrons. Assuming that the issues with Title IX are ironed out, it is imperative that Philips instate women and trans only hours to create a safe space for those who feel anxious or unsafe in the often male-dominated gym space.

As its Wellness vision states, “[The Athletics department] strive[s] to acknowledge the diversity of student needs and promote a greater dialogue around health and wellness at Oberlin.” If accessibility is the ultimate goal of Philips gym, there are many more issues surrounding access in the Athletics department besides the environment of toxic masculinity that the women and trans hour aimed to dissipate. For example, Review Production Editor Sami Mericle wrote an op-ed discussing the disparities in varsity team spending (“Sports Budgets Should Address Women’s Disadvantages,” Feb. 26).

In addition to instating women and trans only gym hours, the Athletics department should consider hiring a community outreach director — someone whose primary job description is to assist beginning student, faculty, staff and community members with their gym experience. It would be a plus if that position is filled by a woman or a trans person so that students can feel comfortable approaching them with issues of gender inaccessibility at Philips.

While The Zen Zone is an essential step to making the gym more welcoming, it is imperative that the Athletics department consider how their responses to other student demands — a women and trans only gym hour and equal budgeting for varsity teams — are viewed by the student body and the Oberlin community. Philips gym has a history of prioritizing athletes’ needs over the safety and mental health of other students and community members. It is time for the department to live up to its vision statement and listen to student voices calling for change.

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