Gym Renovations Necessary

Jackie McDermott, Sports Editor

The walls of Philips Gym are lined with photos of those who came before us — the varsity athletes and coaches that dedicated their time, their bodies, their hearts and souls to representing Oberlin to the best of their ability.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Philips will soon be turned into a space that would make our predecessors proud. The gym will be expanded through a renovation project that includes new fitness rooms and equipment and an update of Carr Pool, which should be completed in spring 2018.

But the renovations won’t just be aimed at the fraction of the student body that gets to have their pictures on the wall, don the crimson and gold and represent our school on varsity athletics teams. The main mission of this project is to extend the rush of endorphins, the camaraderie of teamwork and the unmatched reward of pushing one’s body to the limit to the rest of the student body.

The new wing of the gym will not house a varsity-only weight room. In fact, varsity athletes’ workouts will remain contained in the current Philips weight room, while the airy, naturally-lit, high-tech, inviting space in the Philips addition will be open to all — whether they be students, professors, staff or townspeople.

The reaction to this improvement should be nothing but positive, but negative rumblings about the project have already begun to spread across campus.

In a story about the Philips expansion in the Review, students who are not members of varsity teams voiced their concerns and assumptions that the new wing would be a varsity athlete-dominated space. They posited that the extension would house a varsity-only gym, a smoothie bar and other accoutrements reserved for the athletic elite, assuming that non-athletes would be totally excluded.

In an interview for our story on the expansion, Delta Lodge Director of Athletics Natalie Winkelfoos said there was never any talk of making the new gym a varsity-only space. And the idea of putting a smoothie bar in the gym was thrown out in the earliest stages of planning, when it became clear that there would not be enough funding for it and staffing it would be logistically difficult. The project is intended to be modest, welcoming and, most of all, inclusive.

A much more serious accusation was also posited in the Review by Jeremy Poe. In asking why Oberlin does not have specific rules governing its gym, Poe seemingly insinuated that athletes believe themselves to be above the law.

“Why don’t we have a code of conduct in the gym?” Poe said. “To me, it seems pretty simple to say ‘You’re not allowed to touch people in the gym.’”

We do, in fact, have a code of conduct at Oberlin and at all other colleges and universities in the United States — Title IX — which explicitly prohibits sexual assault and sexualized violence on campus. While there’s no denying that a small fraction of athletes are perpetrators of sexual assault, the vast majority of athletes understand proper conduct and hold themselves to those standards. Insinuating otherwise perpetuates a stereotype that most athletes know all too well.

The myth that athletes are aggressive, both violently and sexually, not to mention intellectually lesser, pervades our culture. It’s promoted by hyperbolic movie portrayals of the high school bully who usually also happens to be the star of the football team. It stains the trial of any athlete accused of sexual misconduct — they are guilty until proven innocent. It invades campuses and constrains hopes of athletic advancement.

An expansion of Philips Gym would be just that — an advancement. It would serve as a recruiting piece for all students, not just athletes, who would otherwise be drawn to the superior facilities at peer schools like Kenyon College. It will serve as a gathering place, where a varsity women’s lacrosse player and a Conservatory piano performance major can bond over a spin class and push each other to grow. And yes, it will serve as a place where varsity athletes can hone their skills and gain the strength to push Oberlin athletics to new heights.

After all, varsity athletes have the same overarching goals as all other Oberlin students. We all came here to be intellectually challenged at one of our nation’s finest educational institutions. That mission is best served when our facilities are in the best possible condition, and our students have the opportunity to develop well-rounded wellness, just as Obies have for centuries.