Students want right to bare arms at rec

MSA could appeal the rec center’s rule against sleeveless shirts next month.

Journalism then-freshman Olivia Kurtz works out on an elliptical machine at the University Recreation Center on Thursday, April 4, 2013.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Journalism then-freshman Olivia Kurtz works out on an elliptical machine at the University Recreation Center on Thursday, April 4, 2013.

Kyle Stowe

Many University of Minnesota students are unhappy with the current dress code at the University Recreation and Wellness Center, a recent poll found.

Eighty-eight percent of rec center users recently polled by the Minnesota Student Association said they support changing the policy to allow sleeveless shirts while exercising. Current policy requires patrons to wear T-shirts with sleeves in many exercise areas.

French freshman Grace Duginski called the current policy “completely unnecessary.”

“I don’t know anybody who’s going to be offended by a little shoulder at the gym,” she said. “No one cares about sleeves.”

Students, faculty and staff have challenged the recreation center’s dress code since its adoption in 1993, according to a URW document. But the URW Advisory Board, which has the final say in the dress code, has continued to support current policy.

Tony Brown, associate director for the Department of Recreational Sports, said URW developed the dress code based on what an “average person” would consider to be appropriate exercise attire.

“Almost everyone has T-shirts,” he said. “It’s not a hardship.”

The dress code only applies to spaces where fitness equipment is available for open use. It doesn’t apply to areas like the University Aquatic Center or basketball courts, Brown said.

“People’s perceptions of what’s acceptable to wear varies from space to space,” he said. “There are different expectations in different settings.”

Olive Martin, MSA student outreach and engagement director and representative to the URW Advisory Board, said it might be time to for the board to discuss the issue again.

Until MSA’s poll, Martin said there hasn’t been any proof that students want the sleeve-length policy overturned.

“Now that we have this evidence that students really do think that they would be comfortable changing the policy, it’s definitely something worth advocating for,” she said.

Finance senior Aaron Soller said it’s strange the URW makes sleeves mandatory while some private fitness clubs permit sleeveless shirts. He said the URW should change the policy to be more consistent with other workout facilities.

“Basically any gym I’ve ever been to, you can wear whatever you want,” he said. “I don’t understand why that doesn’t apply to our own gym.”

Howard Taylor, director of Purdue University’s Division of Recreational Sports, said the school recently changed its dress code after years of a policy similar to the University of Minnesota’s.

Now, Purdue gym patrons can wear sleeveless shirts or tank tops that expose arms and shoulders while covering the rest of the torso.

Taylor said comments from users and conversations among Purdue’s recreational sports staff over the past few years prompted the change.

“We decided some of the things people were wanting to wear, like tank tops, could still be appropriate under certain circumstances,” he said. “For our campus, we felt it’s a fair policy.”

Even with the current policy, Taylor said some people still think Purdue’s policy is too restrictive and other schools around the country have similar issues.

“No matter what you come up with, someone is going to want to push that boundary,” Taylor said. “This is a debate that goes on across the country. … Certain approaches don’t work for certain schools.”

The University’s dress code aims to create an environment that’s welcoming to the entire University population, said Director of University Recreation and Wellness Jim Turman.

“If all we were dealing with was 18- to 22-year-olds, it might be different,” he said. “But we have a very diverse group of people at the University that we need to reach out to.”

Martin said MSA is drafting a position statement supporting a dress code change. If passed in a forum Dec. 3, she’ll present it to the URW Advisory Board.

“If changing the sleeve policy would make things better, I think [the Advisory Board] would be more than welcoming to the challenge,” she said.