After transferring to the University of Utah from Brigham Young University, theater student Kailey Ganevsky anticipated more freedom — she would no longer have to adhere to the private school’s Honor Code, which dictates that all women on campus must cover their shoulders and cannot wear skirts or shorts that rise above the knee.
“I was disappointed on my first trip to the gym,” Ganevsky said. “I was interrupted mid-workout by an employee informing me that the 3 inches of my back and my armpits with my sports bra showing weren’t compliant with their dress code.”
Although the U doesn’t have any policies regarding what students wear, the Student Life Center on campus does.
“For reasons of hygiene, safety, and protection of equipment, appropriate dress attire is mandatory at all times,” stated the facility’s nearly 10,000-word policy. “Shirts, shorts, pants and closed-toe athletic shoes are required. Shirts must cover the sides, torso and midriff. If the sleeves of a shirt are cut off, the hole may hang no lower than 4 inches, or a fist width, from the armpit. [Campus Recreation Services] reserves the right to deem any item of clothing unacceptable in accordance with health and safety standards.”
Signs with graphics illustrating the rules are displayed throughout the building.
“Because the policy is intended to be educational, not punitive, we offer alternative apparel free of charge,” said Julian Gomez, who is a spokesperson for the Student Life Center. “In most cases, patrons have been able to provide their own change of clothes. In some instances, patrons have opted to end their workouts.”
Many students, including Ganevsky, feel that the Student Life Center’s dress code is overzealous.
“As a musical theater major, I had worn this outfit to my classes all day and received no negative input on it,” Ganevsky said. “I have since worn it many more times around campus. I’m not going to change my workout clothes to more ‘appropriate’ workout clothes just to go to the gym. I’m honestly considering getting a membership elsewhere next semester. I need a gym where my main focus is working out — not whether my sports bra [or] back is showing.”
According to Gomez, the Student Life Center aims to hold everyone at the Student Life Center accountable to these policies.
“It’s our goal to enforce the policy continuously throughout the operational hours of the Student Life Center as we would all other policies for the building,” Gomez said.
One student anonymously contacted The Utah Chronicle through email alleging that these policies are unfairly enforced and that employees at the facility more frequently target women who are not in compliance with the dress code. According to the email, the student has seen women asked to change for wide cut-off sleeves, while men continue to work out in similar outfits nearby uninterrupted.
“There are probably a lot of women on campus who have felt slut-shamed there,” read the email.
Call Vande Veegaete, a theater student at the U, said in a Facebook comment responding to a post made by The Utah Chronicle that he supports the dress code because it prevents skin infections and diseases like impetigo and ringworm — problems he said he encountered as a high school wrestler.
He agrees, though, that staff often neglect to confront men who are violating the rules.
“The U needs to enforce the dress code more than they are currently doing with men because it’s disgusting for their entire sides to touch the bench and have them not sterilize it,” Vande Veegaete said.
Like Vande Veegaete, the Student Life Center’s primary concern is hygiene.
“We aim to avoid the transmission of bacteria from person to person and person to equipment,” Gomez said.
Other public universities in the state, including Utah State University and Utah Valley University, similarly do not have a campus-wide dress code, but they have implemented rules in their recreation centers.
No matter the policy regarding activewear at the gym, it is important to many students at the U that everyone at the Student Life Center feels welcome and treated with respect.
“The gym should be a place where all body types are celebrated, and nobody should be shamed for what they wear,” said theater student Kelsey Jensen in a Facebook comment. “Everyone should feel comfortable and safe while working on bettering themselves. What’s the point of trying to reach goals and better my body and mind if I’m going to be shamed for it?”