Women, Trans, Non-Binary Gym Hour Cancelled

Jacqueline McDermott

Enthusiasm transformed into confusion for many after the Oberlin Athletics department reneged on its plan to add an hour designated for women, transgender and non-binary students to Philips gym’s regular Sunday schedule.

The Oberlin Student Senate sent an email on Wednesday, Feb. 10, announcing the new hour at Philips. The statement said that the gym would be open from 5 to 6 p.m. on Sundays, during which cisgender men would be asked not to enter the space.

College senior Evan Lowry and Conservatory senior Jackie Meger exercise in Philips gym. The gym recently cancelled its women, trans and non-binary hour.
Bryan Rubin, Photo editor
College senior Evan Lowry and Conservatory senior Jackie Meger exercise in Philips gym. The gym recently cancelled its women, trans and non-binary hour.

The extra hour was supposed to be implemented Sunday, Feb. 14, and continue every Sunday for the rest of the semester thereafter, but the Oberlin Athletics department quickly rolled back on the proposal.

“At this time, we are not able to offer hours designated specifically for specific groups,” Natalie Winkelfoos, Delta Lodge director of athletics and physical education, said in an email to the Review. She asserted that the extra hour would not occur at Philips in the near future.

The mistaken announcement was apparently the result of a miscommunication on a few levels, according to College junior Dana Kurzer-Yashin, a member of the Student Health Working Group, the first organization to advocate for the additional hour at the gym.

Kurzer-Yashin said she received word from the athletics administration on Friday that the hour would not start due to “logistical concerns regarding staffing and risk management.”

“It seemed to me that [the hour] would start at the beginning of the semester, and I guess that wasn’t their understanding of things,” said KurzerYashin, referring to Winkelfoos and Director of Wellness and Student-Athlete Services Jason Hudson. “There was a lot of delay in emails that then led to the announcement being made,” she said.

Some students were mystified when they heard about the athletics administration’s mix-up.

“I can’t quite tell whether I’m upset or confused by the cancellation of the [women and trans] hour at the gym,” said Peyton Boughton, College sophomore and a member of the women’s track and field team, in an email to the Review. Boughton added that they would understand — though still be frustrated — if there had been a scheduling error or staffing issue.

“Lacking any information as to the cause of this abandonment, on the other hand, is a major disappointment,” Boughton said.

There are safe spaces for women and trans people on campus, such as Baldwin Cottage, but many students remain uncomfortable navigating certain male-dominated spaces.

“It’s absolutely imperative that there be some form of safe space or time for ciswomen and trans [people] to use the workout equipment without having to nervously recoil within their own bodies,” said Boughton.

Kurzer-Yashin echoed this sentiment, “[The hour] is something people were pretty excited about, and a lot of students have reached out and said they think that it’s a thing that needs to happen. … We’ve been talking with trans student groups, and they were really in support of it too.”

The hour would have been an addition, rather than an alteration, to the gym’s existing schedule. Some students objected when the plan was announced, but Kurzer-Yashin countered people’s claims that the new hour would be discriminatory.

“I would say to people like that to stop and listen for a second,” she said. “If there are people that are saying ‘Hey, I’m deeply uncomfortable in this space,’ take a minute and think ‘Okay, they’re uncomfortable. That might mean something. Maybe I should listen to the people who it does affect and who feel deeply uncomfortable, and respect their wishes.’”

Kurzer-Yashin and other members of the Student Health Working Group, as well as members of Student Senate and transgender student groups like Lilac, began advocating for the extra hour about a year ago.

Kurzer-Yashin first met with Hudson and Winkelfoos about additional accommodations last spring. After discussing the options further with the student groups, she had additional meetings with Hudson over Winter Term and the two arranged to allocate the Sunday 5 to 6 p.m. hour for women, trans and non-binary people.

However, the administration’s efforts to implement the new hour in Philips gym were met with large logistical problems, according to Winkelfoos. She said that she and fellow Athletics department officials are doing their best to serve all aspects of the Oberlin community.

“With an aged facility and an explosion of diverse users, we closely track the concerns of patrons in order to identify strategies to achieve our mission to serve all,” Winkelfoos said, adding that the administration plans to supply more resources to help students and community patrons feel comfortable when using the gym.

“We are continuing to explore strategies to monitor and improve the climate, and I would be happy to meet with you to understand better your concerns about using the facility,” Winkelfoos said. “We will also be providing additional information about hours in which the facility is underutilized. On our website, we also have listed the weight room schedule so users may view when varsity teams will be working out.”

Kurzer-Yashin said that she appreciated the attempts made by the administration to foster inclusivity through education. Still, while education can help some students find acceptance, more needs to be done to make workout spaces into comfortable places for all students, she added.

Upon receiving news that the women, trans and non-binary hour at Philips was cancelled, Kurzer-Yashin relocated the hour to South gym on Sunday at 5 p.m. She said it was positively received. Yet there are those who believe weight room inaccessibility will persist and is emblematic of a larger problem.

“There are reasons why women aren’t in certain realms in our society, including sports,” said College sophomore and women’s track and field athlete Lilah Drafts-Johnson. “It’s because the space isn’t accessible, and why would you want to continue working in a space that’s inaccessible?”

Drafts-Johnson pointed out that, across the board, non-males occupy significantly fewer coaching positions than men, especially at the collegiate level.

“I think that the only way we’re going to have more women coaches and women weight trainers is if the spaces are able to nurture that, and right now, for me personally, it does not nurture me.”