Recently, the Iowa State rec center conducted the Weightlifting Gender Discrepancy Study to determine how campus recreation can be more inclusive. This is Part One, featuring Amy Kurr, the recent Iowa State grad who initiated this study.
Campus recreation as an industry has made significant strides toward complete inclusivity in recent years. But there’s still a lot of room to improve.
At Iowa State University, the subject of gender inclusivity in the weight room has been of great interest lately. The rec center’s leadership team has put more focus on how to make female exercisers feel welcome and comfortable in open fitness areas, and this issue was brought to their attention by Amy Kurr, a recent Iowa State graduate.
During her college career as a whole, her campus recreation experience was positive. There was, however, one problem she noticed. “My freshman year I didn’t really like my experience in the rec center,” said Kurr. “I realized a lot of my friends felt the same way — they kind of felt uncomfortable while they were in the weight room.”
After hearing many thoughts that mirrored her own about a lack of gender inclusivity at the Iowa State rec center, Kurr spoke with the school’s Rec Services team. “They’d got complaints in the past from other females who didn’t quite feel comfortable working out in the weight areas,” she said. “They recognized something needed to change, but they weren’t sure yet how to best respond and how many resources to allocate to the issue.”
To her pleasant surprise, her concerns were met with total openness from Rec Services. Kurr met with Rec Services a few times over several days, sharing her experience and working with the team to find a way to attack the issue.
“After a couple meetings, we decided a survey would be best,” said Kurr. “It was cheap and easy, and we were able to get feedback from one-ninth of the student population at Iowa State — all of them women.”
And so the first Weightlifting Gender Discrepancy Study was conducted on Iowa State’s campus. When given the opportunity to share their real thoughts on the rec center, many students gave valuable feedback.
According to Kurr, the results of the survey were very enlightening. She saw three common reasons women felt uncomfortable with weightlifting in the Iowa State rec center:
“That third problem was the biggest shock,” said Kurr. “This was keeping a ton of women away from the gym.”
The focus for Kurr and Rec Services, however, wasn’t to drive men out of the gym, but to find ways to get more women to feel comfortable coming to the gym. And the most viable solution they found was to find a remedy for the first two problems.
“The girls weren’t mad the men were there; they just wanted that area to feel more comfortable, accessible and inclusive,” said Kurr. “We don’t want a ‘women’s only’ gym. And we determined if the rec center focused more on fixing the first two problems — accessibility and education — more women would come into the rec center.”
Due to the overwhelming number of responses from the school’s female population, Kurr and Rec Services decided to also make the survey available for males on campus.
“The result was about the same — the number of male responses equaled roughly one-ninth of the student population,” said Kurr. “The end goal was to see how the campus perceived the rec center. We asked what men and women alike thought about the rec center, what their experiences were like, what struggles they were finding with the rec center and several other questions. We started to ask how Iowa State can take the next step.”
The combined male and female responses helped show Rec Services that the gap between comfort levels in “strong” men and everyone else was the core of the issue.
“The idea was sort of like a pyramid,” said Kurr. “At the top of the pyramid, the strong, buff males felt the most comfortable in the gym, and at the bottom of the pyramid, women and ‘weaker’ men felt high levels of discomfort. Through a focus on more accessibility, education and unity in the gym, Iowa State — and any rec center — can achieve greater inclusivity.”
Now that the study’s information has been shared and more inclusivity efforts have been implemented in the Iowa State rec center, Kurr has shifted her focus to the rest of the country.
“We’re hoping this study can be conducted on college campuses within the Big 12, and then out to other universities in the country,” said Kurr. “We want it to have the same impact everywhere that it’s had on females, males and Rec Services at Iowa State.”