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Rec Sports hosts class to promote gender inclusion

| Friday, April 6, 2018

This semester, RecSports moved to its brand-new location in the Duncan Student Center: the Smith Center for Recreational Sports. To ensure all students can take advantage of the center’s amenities, the Gender Relations Center is hosting Judgement Free Power Hour, a three-week weightlifting series geared towards helping gym newcomers grow more comfortable with exercise equipment, starting on April 8.

Sophomore Maria Ventura, who works as a peer educator at the Gender Relations Center, said the course was created to combat gender norms pervasive in gym culture.

“The dominance of weight-lifting areas by already strong and fit men is a common and near-universal phenomenon in gyms around the world,” she said in an email.

Christine Caron Gebhardt, director of the Gender Relations Center, said these norms make certain individuals feel unwelcome in gym spaces, especially those who lack experience using weights.

“I think when we all walk into new spaces, we look around to see how people are using the space,” she said. “So sometimes, you feel like, ‘Oh, if I don’t know what I’m doing, people are going to judge me.’”

This stigma has negative implications for students’ overall wellbeing, she added.

“The more [students] are able to engage in exercises or in health and wellness routines, the more they’re able to function at a higher performance,” she said. “I don’t want recreation to be limited.”

Gebhardt said that RecSports’ relocation provided the perfect opportunity to rewrite these roles.

“The way Smith is structured now, there’s more opportunity for people to mingle,” she said. “There’s a flow in the spaces that Duncan allows for that you couldn’t have in Rolf’s because of the way it was built.”

With Judgement Free Power Hour, the Gender Relations Center seeks to use Smith’s unique layout as a means to claim gym space for all students, Ventura said.

“Our goal was to prevent [gender noms] from taking root at the Smith Center by allowing those who have previously felt uncomfortable or unfamiliar in similar spaces to gain the experience and confidence to use these spaces and equipment in the new facility,” Ventura said.

Chris O’Brien, a graduate intern with the Gender Relations Center, said that the course will feature hands-on training with gym equipment and will conclude with a group reflection about gender roles.

“There’ll be a trainer there who’s instructing people on different weightlifting techniques, followed by a smoothie break afterwards with some discussion,” he said.

The discussions will aim to create a dialogue about students’ personal encounters with gendered spaces, Gebhardt said.

“We’re gonna start with people’s experiences,” she said.

O’Brien said he wishes for students to view the course as an opportunity not only for self-improvement, but also as a chance to be a part of promoting inclusion at Notre Dame.

“We hope students would gain the skills to be able to use the weights, but also that they would gain confidence in being able to use that space no matter who they are and what their identity is,” he said.

Gebhardt said she hopes student discussion about the course will lead to similar improvements in gender inclusion in other areas of campus life.

“My hope is that once students have [this] experience, that they’ll then be able to do that in other spaces,” she said.

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

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