Student Life Center Dress Code Enforcement Concerns U Students

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Students working out at the George S. Eccles Student Life Center in Salt Lake City, UT on Wed, Jan. 10, 2018. (Photo by Curtis Lin/ Daily Utah Chronicle)
Kim Brenneisen

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?”

e.anderson@dailyutahchronicle.com

@emilyreanderson

Emily Anderson
Emily is the news editor at the Daily Utah Chronicle. She studies journalism and the Middle East. Since 2015, Emily has covered stories from nearly every beat at the Chronicle. She is also a contributor at SLUG Magazine, and has interned with RadioWest, KUER News and The Salt Lake Tribune.

9 COMMENTS

  1. It’s definitely unfair if there is unequal treatment, everyone should have to adhere to the same dress code. But there is a reason for it. People’s backs rubbing onto the equipment is just asking for someone to get ringworm or something worse. It’s about hygiene. It definitely shouldn’t be targeting certain people, but a lot more woman work out with sport bra type outfits than men wear their obnoxious bro tanks with their entire side exposed.

  2. As an undergraduate student, I was in the private workout room running on the treadmill with a sports bra. No one else in the room. An employee went out of their way to tell me “sorry, you can’t wear this.” Ok, then turn on the A/C.

    I am now back at the U for a graduate program and a few weeks ago, an employee asked me to wear longer shorts that cover my tattoos. Right, because a thigh flower tattoo offends other students.

    The shaming of students needs to stop. If I can’t wear a sports bra while exercising, bikinis and speedos should be banned down at the pool. While you’re at it, ban grunting at the gym- that is uncomfortable, too. Ban water bottles- if someone spills, another student could slip and that will compromise safety. Ban flexing in front of the mirror with a muscle shirt on, too.

    The rules at the life center are not meant for sanitary purposes- NO other gym has rules like these. These rules reinforce the idea that women are objects of sexual desire. This issue is prevalent nationwide, but in Utah, it is amplified.

    • “The rules at the life center are not meant for sanitary purposes- NO other gym has rules like these.”

      I beg to differ. The first 18 results from a google search of “gym rules covering torso,” yields 10 results from fitness and recreation facilities that echo the Student Life Center’s policies regarding appropriate attire. Any reputable facility will have similar – if not the same – rules. This absolutely is a sanitary issue (ringworm and fungal infections are a real problem) and has nothing to do with shaming anyone.

      With that said, unequal enforcement *is* a significant issue that’s most likely linked to shaming. So in that regard, yes, employees at the Student Life Center need to be diligent in ensuring equal enforcement across the board. But don’t think for a minute that these rules are arbitrary.

  3. How do these rules sexualize women exactly? It seems that there’s a culture of “less rules, more freedom” in an effort to establish convenience. All of which severely distracts from the real issue.

    If men showed up to the gym in the same attire (equality), I have no doubt in my mind they’d be asked to change, too. Should any individual show up to the gym in their own custom attire while in breach of the general guidelines (equity), it might surprise you, but they’ll be asked to change, too.

    Comparing watersport threads to standard gym apparel is absurd. The reality is this: you are in an academic setting that has provided fitness amenities to a broad pool of patrons, all of whom exercise and sweat within close-proximity to one another. The social contract is to abide by the clearly posted rules, and if there are concerns, address them formally. Don’t just wait until you get caught and cry “sexism.”

    So let’s recap: Guy runs on a treadmill and pulls off his shirt–“go change.” Female decides to run in a sports bra–“go change.” Refuse to abide by the social contract of using the facilities THEN CONTINUE to use the facilities–“go change.”

  4. I have only ever noticed employees tell guys to change because of the holes on the sides of their tank tops. I like this policy and wish more gyms had it. I think it’s a little silly to get upset that you can’t wear your favorite outfit to the gym. People can go to class pantless if they want and no one would care. It’s not a big deal.

  5. No other gym (not affiliated with a college) has rules like these. My first experience at the life center when the same way as others. I was wearing a tank top that showed a small part of my lower back. The guy told me I needed to cover up my back. I understand the policy behind it… so diseases aren’t spread but as this is a college gym I think people should be treated like the adults we are. This meaning if you sweat all over the bench or other equipment you should wipe it off. Every gym I go to people do this. Some people wipe it off before and after just to be safe which I would gladly do instead of having a dumb dress code. Let people work out in what they want!

  6. I am just curious if there is sanitizing wipes or supplies in the equipment area for people to clean the equipment they use, like there are at other gyms. There definitely should be if the dress code is so health and germ concerned…

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