Students, Athletes Divided over ‘Zen Zone’ Hours


Bryan Rubin, Photo Editor

College sophomore Josh Biales uses the weight room at Philips gym. New quiet hours in the weight room are in effect every Monday through Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.

Harrison Wollman, Staff Writer

Last Monday, the Department of Athletics and Physical Education introduced its new “quiet hours” for the Philips gym weight room every Monday through Friday during the hours of 9–11 a.m. and 1–3 p.m. Some Philips patrons saw the measure as a step too far in regulating gym use, while others didn’t think it was enough.

The pilot system, referred to as The Zen Zone, bars varsity workouts from taking place and music played through the weight room speakers during those times.

“With an aged facility and an explosion of diverse users with varying fitness goals, we are tracking the concerns of our users in order to identify strategies to achieve our mission to serve all,” Delta Lodge Director of Athletics and Physical Education Natalie Winkelfoos said in a statement. “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.”

Winkelfoos later explained that the hours are intended to be “mindful of all users in our space and their varying needs,” and can “have a positive impact on any user.”

However, not all current gym-goers are as supportive of the program. Because the gym is used by students, athletes, faculty and local residents alike, the implementation of the program has created a divide between those in favor of the new program and those against it.

College senior Joelle Sostheim, a member of the Preying Manti, the women’s Ultimate Frisbee team, said she believes quiet hours allow for a more inclusive experience for those who do not usually find the gym to be a comfortable place.

“The Zen hours give people who don’t always feel comfortable in the gym the chance to have a regular time that is just for them to explore the gym, try out new equipment and workout in peace,” Sostheim said. “A lot of women and/or trans folks often don’t go the gym, because it can be really intimidating to be surrounded by a bunch of athletes, especially when it’s just you or you and a friend.”

In trying to provide a more welcoming experience for a wider a range of patrons, The Zen Zone program has caused frustration among varsity athletes, as varsity workouts are prohibited during ‘zen’ hours.

Sophomore Anthony Allen, a member of the Yeomen’s football team, elaborated on some of the drawbacks of the new program.

“[The Zen Zone] leads to multiple teams lifting at once before or after the hours. Unfortunately, the consequence is that teams must share equipment and Coach Grant Butler must divide his time, making the workouts less efficient,” Allen said. “Also, many people who weight lift enjoy a high-energy environment. Our training is reflected in our athletic performances; we train how we play.”

Junior football player Chris Herman acknowledged the difficulties involved in one program trying to please all gym patrons, expressing that a completely inclusive solution would involve more changes than the new policy entails.

“I can appreciate the Zen Zone for what it aims at doing. However, it doesn’t address the real issue,” he said. “At most other schools, athletes have their own facilities for lifting, conditioning and practicing.”

Herman pointed out that a weight room specifically for varsity athletes would allow for high-intensity lifts that many athletes like Allen desire without creating an intimidating environment for other gym patrons.

“Our athletic program has made a great deal of progress in building our teams, sports culture and facilities,” he continued. “However, I think that it could further improve by having a weight room for varsity athletes separate from a general recreation center or weight room.”

When asked if the administration was currently considering a varsity-only weight room, Winkelfoos said there were no current plans in place.

In regards to the future of the Zen Zone, Winkelfoos suggested that it is very much a program without a certain future.

“The Zen Zone is a pilot program that will run through the remaining part of the academic calendar. We will review its effectiveness this summer and determine if it’s something we want to continue,” Winkelfoos explained.

A review of the program may prove necessary, as many students have expressed dissatisfaction with its implementation in light of recently canceled women and trans-exclusive hours at the gym.

College junior Sam Price said the Zen Zone seemed like a poor replacement for women and trans hours, emphasizing that the new policy doesn’t properly address the issues that those hours could have remedied.

“I appreciate that the gym is attempting to make spaces are accessible, and we realize that the dropping of trans hours may not be directly related to the installation of Zen hours,” she said. “However, it seemingly [is]. In my opinion, Zen hours are not a way to make Philips gym more accessible, especially to trans people.”

Price went on to say that creating a quiet atmosphere, one of the main focuses of The Zen Zone, doesn’t account for the forms of intimidation trans people feel at the gym.

“Trans people can also be loud and may want to make noise during their workout,” she said. “The primary issue is being around cis males, as this can cause dysphoria for trans people and is not a positive environment to be in. Rather than attempting to teach cis males why trans and nonbinary people need these hours on an institutional level, the Zen hours seem like a cop out.”

College senior Maggie Bussard echoed this sentiment, and said the administration should have stuck to the original plan instead of sacrificing effective inclusivity for ease of implementation.

“I think it is a cop-out, because it doesn’t get [at] the reason why people wanted women and trans hours,” she said. “I think they should have stuck to the original plan, because this doesn’t really make anybody happy. Women and trans hours are important because in the gym can be intimidating, especially if you are uncomfortable and [still] getting used to [it].”

As revision and dialogue about the new policy seems inevitable, stay tuned for updates to revised gym hours for Fall 2016.