Rec Services to enforce dress code policy

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. 

  1. Jeez I thought this was BYU for a second…
    If Augie wants to become like BYU, lower the cost!

  2. I don’t care if the “policy” has been the same since 1989. If it wasn’t enforced it wasn’t a policy. Deciding randomly to enforce it when tops that used to be just fine 2 weeks ago are no longer okay is where I have a problem. This university does not have a dress code and to decide to enforce a dress code in one specific room of one building is a bit ridiculous. If I can wear a crop top to class, I should be able to wear a crop top to extra curricular activities.

    Especially if this is exactly what athletics are wearing while representing us to other school.

  3. I’ll reiterate: the Elm*n is weird for this

  4. “He does not want students to feel deterred from using the weight room because of the presence of revealing clothing”. Seriously???? If someone feels uncomfortable for seeing skin in the weight room and are going to be paying close attention to what others are wearing while trying to work on their health, I sure hope those people don’t come to the weight room. You will see people showing skin everywhere you go, even in class on campus, so this reasoning is hardly valid. I would much rather have people not go to the weight room in fear of seeing someone’s stomach than have someone not go to the weight room in fear of being called out and judged for wearing something that shows skin that they feel comfortable wearing to work out.

  5. Courtney Chrystal Avatar
    Courtney Chrystal

    The lack of consistency in enforcement almost certainly stems from the weight room supervisor’s comfort enforcing the rule. Student employees are being asked to enforce an unfair policy that disproportionately keeps women from working out. Regardless of the patron’s or employee’s gender identity, having to evaluate peers for immodesty is a disturbing duty.

    More than that, it is saddening that the student employees feel they have to answer for and uphold this policy themselves. The policy is not only outdated but far removed and inconsiderate of those both giving and receiving the penalty: students. Nevertheless, student employees are being placed at odds with students patrons for a decision which neither of them and any, or at least the final, say.

    The tension this policy creates ought to be more concerning than my tummy.

  6. I think one of the most frustrating things about this is if you google “women’s workout attire” 95% of what comes up is tank tops cut to show some back, crop tops and work out “sets.” Largely this is what the style is and what is available for people who like to feel good about what they are wearing when they work out. If it motivates people to come to the gym to wear cute clothing, crop tops are largely what is marketed and available to women. There are other ways to go about making sure people are comfortable. Additionally, implementing new ways to encourage cleaning equipment regularly should help with the “transmission of viruses”

  7. It seems to me that the Elmen Center has a right to create a dress code policy. However, the policy is riddled with inconsistencies: in its enforcement, in its design and in its presentation. It has been admitted, by director Mark Hecht, that the policy has been enforced inconsistently, which is extremely problematic. I hope this is among the topics of conversation at the upcoming ASA meeting, as well as the timing of the release of the graphic that has been posted. As someone who is in the Elmen Weightroom once or twice a week, I can attest to how warm it can get—especially around 3 or 4pm when it seems to be the most busy. If we are going to get particular about the clothing that is worn in the weight room, then there needs to be a serious conversation about improving the air ventilation in the room—particularly in the back room which holds most of the treadmills.
    As for this specific article, I find it troubling that the two voices representing the staff of the weight room are both male. This policy unquestionably denies rights of expression, particularly those of females. For males, the policy graphic appears to ban low cut tank tops to prevent the showing of nipples. For females, the policy graphics appear to ban any tank top in which a portion of a bra may be showing. If there was a female involved in the making of this graphic, this certainly should have been considered outrageous. The image I’m referring to is the one of the female with a tank top that dips low on her back, revealing the back strap of a bra. Many, if not all, tank tops worn by women are designed to have expose sports bra straps. This is a foolish graphic and should be re-designed immediately if this is not the message it intends to send. If this is indeed the message of the policy—to prevent the showing of any and all bra straps—well then I suppose it’s not too hard to understand the backlash this graphic has received.
    Finally, I would like to address the term “midriff” and the way it fits into this conversation. I’ve had female teammates and friends who have been asked to change in the weight room solely because their midriff is showing in a top they are wearing. It seems that female patrons are being asked to cover all bra straps AND their midriffs—whereas men are only being asked to refrain from low cut tank tops. I hope that the upcoming ASA meeting addresses the topic of “midriff” and really questions the motives behind including it alongside “nipples” as a part of the body that should not be exposed. Cheers to the women on this campus who have spoken up against this policy! I hope that future discussions are meaningful and productive.

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