Harvard University’s Co-Ed Controversy: Women-only Workouts

by Alan Story

The biggest debate currently spreading through Harvard University as nothing to do with math, science, or politics. The burning issue that’s causing protests and angry letters from students and parents is co-ed gyms. Because of a recent request by female Muslim students, Harvard University decided to create women-only workout hours at one of their campus gyms. The Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center now has women-only hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays; the action has stirred much controversy.

Six female students looking for a place that could exercise comfortably at approached the Harvard College Women’s Center. The school thought the request was reasonable and enacted the new program. Robert Mitchell, the communications director of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, doesn’t understand what the controversy is. “It was done for religious purposes, but it's not closed to other women who may want to participate.”

Women-only health clubs is hardly just a religious matter. Fitness Centers such as Curves are exclusive to women. Curves feels that some women need a comfortable, supportive environment that regular co-ed health clubs may not be able to provide. It’s a move that’s steering health clubs away from the meat market atmosphere to a place where healthy lifestyles can really be established.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, stated, “If the women are dressed in a manner that makes it more comfortable to exercise, they may not feel it’s appropriate for them to be viewed by men in that particular attire.” This is not just a religious stance, but one felt by many women according to Curves.

Even with three other health club facilities on the Harvard’s Cambridge campus, many students are angered. Some students are upset that the hours are not enough, and that just on Tuesday and Thursdays does not make working out more convenient. Others feel that making such a change is an example of being “overly politically correct.” Still other students believe that this is an example of reverse sexism toward men.

Harvard has a long track record of religious tolerance and has made an effort to accommodate students’ wishes in the past. These include prayer areas for Hindu and Muslim students as well as rescheduling exams to accommodate religious holidays.

Mitchell is quick to sate that “this is just yet another of what we thought was a reasonable request for some special times because of religion, not because of gender.”

The women-only hours at this Harvard workout facility are currently on a trial basis and will be evaluated at the end of the semester. With all the heated debate the change has stirred this seemingly innocent workout program just mat not work out at all.

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