By Lucia Tonachel
On Thursday, a group of over fifty students and athletic directors gathered in Loose Lounge. Leaders of Queer Athletes and Allies (QAA) and Student Athletes Leading Social Change (SALSC) collaborated to co-host a Fitness Center Town Hall, with the aim of engaging a diverse group in a discussion about how to make the Fitness Center more welcoming and inclusive.
“The issues about the weight room have just always been floating around and we’ve kind of been hearing them from everywhere for a very long time and there was a specific request from students to do something about the weight room and making the fitness center more inclusive,” said Polly Carr ’18, a co-leader of QAA and member of the women’s soccer team.
John Gallagher ’17, also a QAA leader, underscored this point, adding that “it was a relatively universal thing” for students to express concerns about inclusion at the Fitness Center. Gallagher runs track and field for the Pioneers and sees the value of fitness resources for the whole of the Grinnell community. QAA leads inclusion talks with sports teams, “to start a conversation about what inclusion looks like,” Carr said.
Karin Yndestad `17 explained that the event was organized with the goal of “trying to make sure that we would be creating a space where people who don’t necessarily feel comfortable in the weight room can say ‘I don’t feel comfortable’ and talk about the reasons why that might be.”
Yndestad is the third QAA co-leader and a member of the women’s cross country team. Despite their best efforts, however, most attendees were athletes.
“I really hope people come away feeling a lot of support from athletes on campus. I was really excited to hear people were really invested despite not having faced some of the same concerns themselves,” Ynestad said. “It’s still in my eyes, a success, because people in this room will continue the conversations.”
Students attending the town hall were split randomly into small groups by index card and instructed to begin by identifying one thing the fitness center did well and one area in which it could improve. Ground rules for discussion further helped set a respectful and productive baseline. Small groups then moved into discussions about what students identified and possible solutions, each led by a student facilitator from QAA or SALSC. The event ended in a large group discussion, which helped concretize common themes across discussions.
Common concerns included the experience of walking through a crowded weight room to reach the upstairs cardio machines, absence of supportive information about gym etiquette and the intimidation which may arrive with an entire sports team practicing in the Fitness Center. Some suggestions included a p-card reader for the second floor, relocating some of the lifting racks and platforms and providing more information about work out routines and general gym how-tos.
Ben Cooprider, Assisant Athletics Director, and Holly Roepke, Assistant Athletic Director and Coordinator for Diversity, Inclusion, and Student Programming, were also in attendance. Not only symbolizing the support of the Athletic Department for such conversations, Cooprider and Roepke spoke to the power of the conversation.
“Please come talk to us,” Cooprider said, sharing his personal contact information in earnest.
“You have a responsibility when you leave this room, share this. Find five people outside this room and have this conversation,” Roepke added.
Throughout the discussion, one theme was clear: everyone wants the Fitness Center to be as inclusive as possible and the turn out provided evidence for the motivation to make this desire real.
QAA and SALSC will compile a list of concerns and suggestions to share with other members of the Athletic Department this week, to initiate changes as soon as possible.
If you have any comments, concerns, ideas or questions to add to the ongoing discussion, please email [qaa].