YeoFit Should More Actively Support Trans Fitness

I had the good fortune to attend a guided tour of the newly constructed Patricia ’63 & Merrill ’61 Shanks Health and Wellness Center on Aug. 31. Not all of the machines had arrived yet, but the high ceilings and multipurpose rooms showed that the wing was capable of facilitating hundreds of people exercising at the same time. It was a distinct upgrade from what Sara Shoenhoft, Oberlin’s head softball coach and our tour guide, called the “sweaty hallway” in which the cardio machines were formerly housed.
During the tour, Shoenhoft confirmed that Oberlin varsity athletic teams would use the old weight room for training, leaving the new spaces available primarily for non-athlete students and other community members. The new space also comes with a new YeoFit program that includes weekly drop-in classes for boxing, spinning, yoga, and other activities, all of which are open to the College community.

With all of its great initiatives, YeoFit has won me over. I’m a huge fan of the opportunities it affords our student body and its mission to “energize, empower, and engage the Oberlin community through fitness and fun,” as stated on the GoYeo website.
However, the YeoFit program overlooks active trans inclusion in exercise spaces at Oberlin as a necessary component of the program’s mission. If Oberlin Athletics staff members want to engage the whole student body in health and fitness, they must address the fact that transgender students are a demographic that struggles greatly with body image, highly gendered spaces, and muscle-building as a gendered activity. All of these struggles actively keep trans students out of athletic spaces.

When I asked about the possibility of “trans hours” in the new space, Shoenhoft replied that there were no plans to dedicate specific times for transgender community members to have priority in or exclusive use of the space. She recognized that “trans hours” have been proposed before for gym spaces on campus, but seemed to doubt its feasibility. I was surprised by her response. I thought it would be rather simple for some of the new fitness space to be dedicated for trans community members a couple of times a week. At the very least, some hours could be put aside as non-exclusive “trans-priority” hours.

Transgender students face restrictive factors that keep them out of the gym, at Oberlin and elsewhere. These factors include gendered locker rooms, the lack of transgender staff at the desk, and the general conception of trans bodies as shameful. The repeated failure to implement trans hours at Oberlin suggests that Athletics staff does not think transgender students need the “extra” space that trans hours provide. It appears that restricting access to certain parts of the athletic facility for the sake of a minority group sits uncomfortably in the minds of those in charge.

That mindset needs to change. If the YeoFit program aims to include everyone in its mission to encourage non-athletes to practice fitness, it needs to consider boundaries that might disincentivize or fully prohibit students from exercising or using the new space. Initiatives like trans-priority hours, gender-neutral locker rooms, or athletic classes specifically for trans and nonbinary students would go a long way in including the Oberlin trans community in YeoFit’s general mission of health and fitness. YeoFit is an excellent initiative, but it can and should do better to provide inclusive spaces for trans and nonbinary community members.