Group fitness classes aim to break stigmas

As part of a collaboration between MCAE and RecWell, two group fitness classes were offered this semester to encourage fitness among students of color.


Image by David Monterroso

Terra Brister, interim assistant director of holistic student support, said the classes allow students of color to take up space in places historically known to be predominantly white, such as the gym.

by Amirah Razman

The Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE) hosted recreational fitness classes on Feb. 6 and Thursday for students of color.

The fitness classes, held at the Recreation and Wellness Center (RecWell), provided students of color with access to the gym to help them be mindful of their physical health. MCAE Director Fernando Rodriguez said he wanted students to see the resources RecWell offers, such as personal dietitians and rooms for cardio and weightlifting.

“It’s hard for students who are first-generation students of color who are already feeling isolated to go into the big rec center and then ask for help,” Rodriguez said.

When he was studying at the University of Minnesota, he said his fitness group gave him a sense of community he did not get from his classes and professors, so he wanted to provide a similar community with other students.

“I wanted to be really intentional about creating opportunities for the students that we serve to connect to the RecWell and their group fitness program,” Rodriguez said.

Terra Brister, interim assistant director of holistic student support, said the classes are an important way for students of color to take up space in places historically known to be predominantly white, such as the gym.

“I hope by offering these classes that students of color will feel more comfortable exploring different forms of wellness and working out,” Brister said.

RecWell’s mission is to provide spaces for students to feel they belong, according to an email statement from RecWell to the Minnesota Daily.

“RecWell is proud to be able to accommodate inclusive co-curricular programs, such as the MCAE LLP gym classes,” the statement said.
Brister said the classes provide a level of comfort where students can have a good time and work out together.

“There is a level of comfort and understanding that we don’t have to excel, we can be silly and learn at the same time,” Brister said.

However, Rodriguez said he also wants to normalize the discomfort that may come with attending a group fitness class at RecWell. Since fitness spaces are typically predominantly white, some students of color fear judgment for acknowledging these spaces are also for them.

“Everyone feels like ‘yeah, we own this,’” Rodriguez said. “Our goal is that we are exposing students to that discomfort so that they can make meaning about that discomfort for themselves.”

MCAE hosted group fitness classes in 2020, but they were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Rodriguez. Now, with enough resources and staff available to execute these classes, Rodriguez said MCAE was able to host an open house in the fall for all students to familiarize themselves with RecWell and group fitness.

“It takes a lot to get students to the gym,” Rodriguez said. “It’s scary for a lot of reasons, and even more from a representation aspect and being comfortable and seen in the community.”

Rodriguez said he hopes MCAE is able to provide more group fitness opportunities in the future.

Rodriguez said he also hopes by offering group fitness classes for students of color, students will see themselves represented in group fitness and will feel more comfortable and experienced to participate in and teach classes in the future.

Rodriguez was a group fitness instructor at RecWell when he was a graduate student at the University, and he said there were only a handful of instructors of color at the time.

“Nothing has changed from the time I was a group fitness instructor until now in terms of who attends these classes,” Rodriguez said. “I want to see our communities claiming space in these group fitness classes and working out and overcoming some of the barriers that it takes to get there.”