Sophomore Mary Christensen’s gym attire remains the same as two years ago: sports bras, tank tops and cropped shirts. She never encountered an issue with her clothing at the Elmen Center weight room — until this February.
Christensen started using the weight room in fall 2020. She continues to work out there, and often participates in voluntary lifts with the cheer team. Her teammates’ athletic outfits resemble her own preferences for open-styled tops. According to Christensen, any exposed skin aids in comfort and self-expression.
During a workout with teammates on Feb. 7, she witnessed several of her teammates being approached by weight room staff and told their clothing went against the dress code policy. The women wore shirts that revealed their midriffs. Christensen and her teammates felt confused and uncomfortable. They had been unaware of the policy.
On Wednesday, Rec Services shared a post on Instagram that detailed its policy. The post shows graphics of appropriate and inappropriate shirts on male and female bodies. Over 250 comments were left on the post, most of which express discontent with the limitations the policy creates.
The weight room staff has been enforcing this dress code policy which many students were unaware of. Students who show the midriff area are sometimes approached by staff and informed that their clothing violates weight room policy.
On Feb. 18, during one of her workouts at the weight room, Sophomore Michele Becker wore a tank top that she had frequently worn to the weight room before.
While she was running on the treadmill, her tank top slid upwards and revealed about an inch of her midriff. Staff asked her to put on her sweatshirt for the rest of her workout. Becker was upset at the interaction.
“It’s a natural part, like your clothes can move when you run,” Becker said.
She said that Augustana is normally inclusive of students’ comfort, but the policing of clothing is somewhat contradictory to that notion.
Mark Hecht, director of Recreational Services, said they have not kicked anyone out yet but have reminded both male and female students to follow the policy next time. Hecht will attend the ASA meeting on April 3 at 6 p.m. to discuss the policy enforcement.
Currently, one large white sign that lists eleven rules and policies sits above the dumbbells. In reference to a dress code, the sign says that “proper attire is required to use the weight room: sweats, shorts, or tights, and t-shirts or tank tops. All users must wear a shirt regardless of gender.”
On Feb. 15, the weight room held their monthly staff meeting. Head weight room supervisors, Richard Romig and Jessica Blachowske, typically lead these monthly meetings. Romig said they did discuss dress code and reiterated the reasoning behind the policy. A PowerPoint presentation showed the policy described in the staff manual. The manual depicts the dress code as being a t-shirt or tank top that touches the waistband.
At the meeting, Hecht proposed to staff members an example of new, clear signage and received their feedback.
Following the meeting, Hecht and his staff finalized new dress code signage which was posted on Instagram and will be put up in the weight room. According to Hecht, the new signs should be up within a week or two.
Hecht said that they only ever needed one sign as the dress code essentially remained undisputed until spring 2021. Current policies largely remain the same as those of 1989 — when the Elmen Center opened its doors. However, last spring, several students expressed to staff their concerns regarding revealing clothing and too much exposed skin in the weight room. Former outdoor programs director, Ryan Brown, helped change the language of the sign to be more specific.
Christensen does not think the verbiage of this sign is specific enough.
“It doesn’t define what a shirt is, and it doesn’t say no crop tops,” Christensen said.
The reasoning behind the dress code is “twofold,” Hecht said. On one hand, he wants to ensure cultural sensitivity. Hecht described this sensitivity as being aware of the differences in a variety of cultures – especially regarding modesty. He does not want students to feel deterred from using the weight room because of the presence of revealing clothing.
“We really want to be, you know, on the front end — not being reactive but really trying to be proactive,” Hecht said.
Romig emphasized similar sentiments.
“I just want people to be comfortable using the weight room,” Romig said.
Both Hecht and Romig said that the dress code also works to eliminate skin contact with equipment as bacterial diseases can easily be passed.
According to a Consumer Reports article, skin infections are common in gyms. Sweat that lingers on equipment breeds various strains of bacteria. A layer of clothing between skin and exercise equipment helps prevent the spread of bacteria.
Several other institutions, such as Eastern Washington University, have a similar dress policy. EWU’s online dress policy iterates that reduced skin contact with workout equipment reduces the spread of skin infections and “increases the longevity of exercise equipment.”
Hecht admits that the Weight Room is inconsistent in policing the dress code, and that they must work on improving consistency. He says that some employees are more comfortable with addressing policy offenders than others.
“This is multifaceted. Anytime you have a policy and a lot of different people supervising something, consistency is gonna be a challenge. And we’re committed to getting better on that,” Hecht said.