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Women-only fitness classes at the U of C are a forward-thinking decision

By Jill Girgulis, January 21, 2016 —

Universities strive to be welcoming environments for their students. While the rest of the world is sometimes hesitant to acknowledge sensitive topics like sexuality or mental health, universities are often more open. And the University of Calgary is no exception. With its decision to introduce several women-only fitness classes — barre fusion, Jazzercise, Zumba and belly dancing — to the Active Living lineup for the Winter 2016 semester, the university is doing something that makes me proud to be a student here.

These classes demonstrate that the U of C’s Students’ Union is willing to advocate for and address the concerns of the female students who wish — usually for religious reasons — to work out in a separate setting from their male counterparts. Like the gender-inclusive washroom in MacHall or the Faith and Spirituality Centre, this is meant to help students feel more comfortable spending their time at the U of C.

Some may be unhappy about this move, but Active Living has so far managed to avoid any controversy. Though I initially assumed that men who wanted to take part in these types of classes wouldn’t have options available to them, Active Living is still offering equivalent co-ed versions of the classes — with the exception of belly dancing. I guess no one is perfect.

U of C students should realize how fortunate we are. We go to a school with an SU that cares enough to listen to individual concerns from its students. The concerns of undergraduates in Canadian institutions like McGill University have not been met with nearly as much sophistication.

In early 2015, two female Muslim students from McGill approached their students’ union about the possibility of implementing women-only hours in their campus fitness centre. This proposal, however, was met with significant backlash from the McGill community. Words like ‘discrimination’ and ‘segregation’ were tossed around. In the end, the proposal was completely shut down.

At the U of C, we didn’t have that kind of backlash. Instead, the SU and Active Living were able to move ahead with an inclusive gesture that puts other Canadian universities to shame.

Our university isn’t perfect. But every so often, the addition of new features like women-only fitness classes restores my faith in the U of C. I might be an optimist — but hopefully I’m not the only one.

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