Recently, the Iowa State rec center conducted the Weightlifting Gender Discrepancy Study to determine how campus recreation can be more inclusive. This is Part Two, featuring Michael Giles, Jr., the director of recreation services at Iowa State University.
It’s not easy to admit when you’re doing something wrong. However, when Iowa State University received feedback about a lack of inclusivity in its weight areas, the rec center’s leadership team took the criticism in stride.
This criticism came in the form of the Weightlifting Gender Discrepancy Study, spearheaded by recent graduate Amy Kurr, and the study’s findings shed some light on why many students — most of them females — felt intimidated or unwelcome in the weight room.
Between a lack of equipment accessibility, improper equipment education and the tendency for weight areas to be male-dominated, there were several ways Iowa State needed to improve its inclusivity. And that was a tough pill to swallow.
According to Michael Giles, Jr., the director of recreation services at Iowa State, it was certainly a wakeup call, and accepting the extent of the issue was the first step toward making positive changes.
“The first step for me was believing this was an existing problem,” said Giles. “You first have to accept this is either a hidden problem in your facility, or one that’s very prominent and you’re not paying enough attention to it. Doing a survey like this was very eye-opening for me, and I had to be able to ‘take the hit’ and realize we’re not doing inclusivity well.”
Upon examining the results of the Weightlifting Gender Discrepancy Study with his team and Kurr, Giles realized how much the rec center needed to change. “It wasn’t a welcoming environment,” he said. “There’s a big intimidation factor and lack of awareness that may not be under our direct control, but as a collegiate recreation program it is our responsibility to handle.”
Iowa State wasted no time implementing changes to improve inclusivity by reducing intimidation. The first step was a close examination of how the fitness floors were laid out.
“That was one of the first things we did,” said Giles. “We evaluated our space, made some adjustments to squat racks, and moved other pieces of equipment around to make it less intimidating for regular users.”
One specific area Iowa State got a lot of feedback on was the squat rack setup. “All the squat racks faced the exact same direction, and there’s a bench that separates that weight room from a corridor,” said Giles. “That was uncomfortable for some of our female participants, because people would be sitting facing the squat racks directly.”
Changing the direction the squat racks faced was just one example of Iowa State’s focus on inclusivity. Through an examination of the whole rec center, Giles and his team have taken several steps making the entire facility more inclusive.
These changes started, and will continue, with feedback from the student population. “It’s important not to to take it personally,” said Giles. “I think our natural instinct is to get defensive when we’re criticized. But it’s so important to be open to criticism and willing to make changes from it.”