Rec Centre launches women’s-only space pilot

Diamond Schmitt Architects // Special to Western News

The University Students’ Council (USC) has partnered with Campus Recreation on a pilot project that will see the fourth floor of the Western Student Recreation Centre become a women’s-only space every Tuesday and Thursday, between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., for the duration of the Winter Term.

Western Student Recreation Centre (WSRC) patrons who identify as women will have a space to themselves, starting this week, thanks to a pilot project looking to promote equitable participation and access to physical activity on campus, Western officials announced.

The University Students’ Council (USC) has partnered with Campus Recreation on a pilot project that will see the fourth floor of the WSRC become a women’s-only space every Tuesday and Thursday, between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., for the duration of the Winter Term.

The pilot is part of a greater collaboration on campus to better understand, assess, and advocate for student needs and desires, explained Cat Dunne, USC Associate Vice-President.

“There was a petition last year that the Women’s Issues Network – one of our branches at the USC – brought to us, mostly from Muslim women stating that there was no women’s only space. That was a concern because wearing hijabs or burkas can be limiting in order to access exercise facilities,” Dunne noted.

Other universities across the province, in addition to commercial and chain fitness facilities, already offer women’s only spaces and hours, she added.

“We knew there was a need; we wanted to launch as soon as we could. This is a pilot and we are looking for feedback in order to ensure it meets the needs we are trying to address. We want to ensure, for other populations, if they feel they can’t access (fitness facilities), they can let us know and we can try to find other modifications if we need to, as well.”

The women’s-only space is open to anyone who self-identifies as female, whether student, staff or faculty, including members who identify as transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, non-binary, genderqueer and/or gender diverse.

The space includes two multi-purpose studio spaces, including a women’s-only registered fitness class as well as a spin bike and cardio area adjacent to the studios and gyms. Registration for programs is available online.

The WSRC fourth floor does not have any washrooms or locker room spaces. It will be a women’s-only space once reached, staffed by individuals who identify as female, but there is no path from the ground floor restrooms and change rooms that is guaranteed to be women’s only.

Patrons who wear hijabs and burkas may wish to remove coverings once they reach the fourth-floor space, which will be blocked off to reduce visibility to the remainder of the open-concept gym.

“This is why we are welcoming feedback; we will try our best to make adjustments to the space and accommodations as needed,” Dunne said.

Western Recreation staff wanted to respond quickly to the need brought up by the Women’s Issues Network petition, added Gareth Cunningham, Associate Director (Recreation and Facilities). The need was expressed late in the Fall Term, which meant some programming had to be shifted temporarily, making this first offering of a women’s-only space a test run.

“If the students desire and are looking for this, then it is something we will try to do. It’s really important. We want to be a welcoming and inclusive environment. There are a lot of studies about access to fitness facilities and for women-identifying students being a good thing,” Cunningham said. “It just requires timing and planning and knowing how to put this into the physical space and space constraints and limitations.”

The women’s-only space is concurrent with broader efforts on campus to look at the intersectionality of student groups and recreation groups, he added, and Western Recreation is working with Student Experience to better understand the lived experience of students to assess what is working on campus and what is still needed.

Patrons can offer feedback at any time at wsrc.pilot@westernusc.ca.