Harvard tries women-only gym hours 56 replies

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26th June 2000

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#1 10 years ago

Harvard tries women-only gym hours - Yahoo! News

BOSTON - In a test of Harvard's famed open-mindedness, the university has banned men from one of its gyms for a few hours a week to accommodate Muslim women who say it offends their sense of modesty to exercise in front of the opposite sex.

The policy is already unpopular with many on campus, including some women who consider it sexist.

"I think that it's incorrect in a college setting to institute a policy in which half of the campus gets wronged or denied a resource that's supposed to be for everyone," said student Lucy Caldwell, who also wrote a column in The Harvard Crimson newspaper critical of the new hours.

Student Ola Aljawhary, who is Muslim and works out elsewhere on campus but is not one of the women who requested the change, rejected that argument.

"The majority should be willing to compromise," she said. "I think that's just basic courtesy. We must show tolerance and respect for all others."

The trial policy went into effect Feb. 4, about a month after a group of six Muslim women, with the support of the Harvard College Women's Center, asked the university for the special hours, spokesman Robert Mitchell said.

"We get special requests from religious groups all the time and we try to honor them whenever possible," he said, noting that the school has designated spaces for Muslim and Hindu students to pray.

No men are allowed in the gym between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Mondays, and between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Even the staff during those times is all women.

The special hours allow the Muslim women, who adhere to traditional dress codes by covering their hair and most of their skin while in public, to dress more appropriately for exercising, said Susan Marine, director of the women's center.

"It's a pretty big breach of their moral and religious code for a man to see them with their hair uncovered and it's just not possible for them to be in a mixed environment," she said.

When student Kareem Shuman showed up to work out at the gym on Monday, he was turned away but didn't mind.

"Knowing it was requested by women of my faith — it's very understandable to me," said Shuman, 21, who figured he'd just come back later for his workout.

Other men find the new hours inconvenient. Nick Wells, a junior who wrote an opinion piece in the Crimson criticizing the policy, suggested setting aside one room for women.

"It's not that I am opposed to the idea of helping people in religious groups or women in general, but I just think Harvard is not being fair to people like me who live (near the gym)," Wells said in an interview.

The policy only applies to one gym, a facility mainly used for intramurals. Because of its location at the edge of campus, it is the university's least used gym, Mitchell said.

The women-only hours are of minimal inconvenience because they are just six out of the 70 hours a week the gym is open, Marine said.

"Harvard has a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure our students can stay healthy," she said.

An Associated Press reporter who went to the gym Monday did not see any Muslim women entering. Efforts to reach some of the women who requested the policy through the Women's Center were unsuccessful.

The policy will be reviewed at the end of the semester, Mitchell said.

Kent Blumenthal, executive director of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, which has 660 member colleges and universities nationwide, said he could not think of any other institution with a similar policy.

"It seems in some ways contrary to the purpose of campus recreational programs, which is all about access," he said.

Harvard's policy is no different from commercial gyms that cater partially or even exclusively to women, said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"The Muslim bashers portray it as the world coming to end, but if women have a couple hours a week to work out in private, I don't see it as a major issue," he said

I try to be as tolerant as possible when it comes to freedom of religion, but this is absolutely asinine. So we are all suppose to service a religion's ridiculous request each time it affects/offends somebody? Gimme a break. If I wear a Darwin t-shirt in class and it offends a religious person, will the University ban atheist apparel to appease their religious beliefs? How far will this politically correct clusterfuck go?



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4th October 2004

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#2 10 years ago

Well, Harvard is a private university, so it can do whatever it wants regardless of how insane the policy may be. I, personally, am indifferent to it. On the one hand, it's nice that Muslim women are being respected. On the other hand, Harvard certainly seems to be catering to an extreme minority of the student population by doing this, rather than keeping their entire campus in mind.

Revenge VIP Member

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28th July 2004

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#3 10 years ago
We must show tolerance and respect for all others.

The best line in the entire argument, plain and simple. Decisions should be made with the majority of the student body in mind, and I would guess that the majority of students on campus would have liked to have had the use of the gym at those given hours.

homo sine domino


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1st September 2002

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#4 10 years ago

It surely wouldn't offend the women's modesty, if they exercised dressed like this. Tbh, I think it offends most men's immodesty that women are not wearing bikinis while exercising. :nodding: =p

It's stupid to cater a special group for silly reasons ("because they feel awkward"), because then one ought to cater every group. What I'm trying to say is, even if Muslim women where a majority at Harvard, I still wouldn't approve of it.


MrFancypants Forum Admin

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7th December 2003

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#5 10 years ago

I agree with Jeffro here that religious people shouldn't get away with playing the religion-card in order to justify random behaviour that can't be explained rationally. If people want to dress like a tent they can do so, but they can't expect me to take that into consideration in all things I do.

Tolerance and respect is good, but not if it infringes the freedom of a majority for the benefit of a minority in a case where the minority is itself responsible for its behaviour.

tyrannicida;4247837Tbh, I think it offends most men's immodesty that women are not wearing bikinis while exercising. :nodding: =p

Well said, but for that to affect anything you'd have to found a religion worshipping the female body. As soon as you have enough followers and maybe a lobby you'll be able to affect policy.



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29th November 2003

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#6 10 years ago

I don't agree with policies of agreeing to weird demands from religious groups, but I don't find this case terribly important since they apparently have more than one gym (one of the benefits of a wealthy university I suppose), so the discriminated men can go elsewhere. They'll just get some exercise on the way.

Emperor Benedictine

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16th April 2005

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#7 10 years ago

Tolerance of religious beliefs should not mean letting religious people inconvenience others for religious reasons. Besides which, expecting people who do not share your religious beliefs to have to accomodate them at their own expense is neither tolerant nor respectful. But somehow that is not taken into consideration and the issue of respect for others is, as usual where the issue of religion is concerned, treated as a one-way street.


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6th January 2005

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#8 10 years ago

Just great, they're supporting the archaic isolationist tendencies of some Muslim women so they can socially isolate themselves even more than they probably already are :rolleyes:

Not criticizing the religion itself here, but in my book aspect of any belief that is some sort of combination of "modesty" and separation of the sexes is antiquated and sexist. Even if it is by choice that women would act like this, that's only because they've been indoctrinated to feel ashamed of their body, not exactly modern thinking there.

I consider myself pretty tolerant when it comes to religion (or pretty much anything for that matter), but it gets on my nerve when people use religion to justify archaic, sexist behavior. Most Muslims are perfectly moderate, normal people and their beliefs are pretty much the same as the other Abrahamic religions, but there isn't really much good you can say about Islam and women.

Mr. Matt VIP Member


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17th June 2002

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#9 10 years ago

Jeebus, if the women are a bit shy let them have their time alone! They're off-peak hours anyway, and there are other gyms on campus to go to. If it were the only gym on campus then it would be an entirely different matter, but it ain't so it ain't.

More to the point, it's a privately-owned facility, so they can do what they like.


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#10 10 years ago

I consulted my bible to help me answer this. This is what I found on page 69:

"Building for Peace: If instead of showing strength by spending billions on weapons of war, the West was to build a mosque on Ground Zero, it would be a remarkable symbol of our understanding of the Islamic point of view.

It would be a major step towards world peace."

Think about it.