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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Women speak out about harassment in the rec center

By Tyler Urke

The percentage of women using the weight room in the Wade King Student Recreation Center has tripled in the last five to seven years, according to rec center fitness coordinator Ron Arnold.

Weight room staff is also around 50 percent female.

However, for some female Western students, the weight room has been nicknamed the “manquarium” because of its reputation of being mostly full of men and unwelcoming to others.

Junior Deepika Verma has experienced unwanted attention in the weight room firsthand. She said one day she stood up after stretching and noticed a man staring directly at her while walking toward her.

Verma said she had her headphones in and was confused because she didn’t know the man. Then she said he asked for her number.

“He said, ‘I thought you were cute. Can I have your number?’ And I was like, ‘No. I’m sorry. I don’t give my number out,’” Verma said.

Verma said the man walked away, but that she still feels intimidated going in the weight room alone.

Verma is a transfer student from Central Washington University and said when she first started going to the weight room, she asked one of her male friends to go with her for the first few months.

“I told him, ‘I’m scared. I’m intimidated. Can you just go with me?’” Verma said. “It’s a lot easier when you go with a friend.

The Wade King Student recreation center weight room can be the site of harassment and unsought attention by male students. // Photo by Mathew Roland

Senior Christa Dietrich said she works out in the weight room almost every day and said it’s uncomfortable because it feels like she’s being watched at all times.

“I don’t want to have a billion guys watching me while I’m working out,” Dietrich said.

Senior Kelsey Machado said what she notices most is that women are treated differently in the weight room.

“You don’t see guys coming up to another guy while he’s benching and ask him how many sets he’s doing,” Machado said. “If I’m benching, sometimes guys will try and talk to me and I’m like, ‘Dude, back up.’”

All rec center staff are required to attend a mandatory sexual harassment training led by the Equal Opportunity Office at the beginning of fall quarter, Arnold said. Rec center staff also conduct their own sexual harassment trainings within their own departments.

Weight room staff are well prepared to step in if necessary, and have done so in the past, Arnold said.

“Our Fitness Staff in the weight room has intervened because of patrons experiencing unwanted attention,” Arnold said in an email. “If and when these situations occur, it is handled according to the Student Recreation Center and Western sexual harassment protocol.”

This issue isn’t isolated to Western’s rec center weight room.

Western President Sabah Randhawa addressed the campus community in an email Tuesday, Feb. 20, asking students, faculty and staff to report sexual harassment and assault to the Equal Opportunity Office.

Western’s policies with respect to sexual misconduct as a form of sex discrimination are unequivocal: this kind of behavior will not be tolerated and all reports will be investigated,” Randhawa said.

Machado said unwanted attention can extend outside the weight room as well. The physical education major said her freshman year a male student tried talking to her in the weight room even though she wasn’t acting interested. He then tried to hit on her at an off-campus party, Machado said.

“I shut that down real quick,” Machado said.

Machado said she doesn’t notice flirting in the gym she uses when she goes home as much, but she thinks because patrons are the same age in the rec center weight room, it happens more often. She said it’s a problem nonetheless.

“Girls are just treated badly in gyms,” Machado said. “I was putting clips on one time and an old guy came up to me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.’ I was like, ‘It’s just a clip.’”

Dietrich also said the weight room is uncomfortable because she feels like the male patrons know what they’re doing better than she does. The psychology major said there’s a perception most girls don’t lift heavy weights and do cardio instead.

“I think that girls are intimidated to go down there because there are so many guys and everyone has a different experience with guys,” Dietrich said. “Sometimes just being around a big group of guys can be so uncomfortable when you’re the only girl, too.”

If students experience sexual harassment in the weight room, they can notify rec center employees. They can also call 911 if it’s an emergency, notify University Police at 360-650-3911 or contact or the Equal Opportunity Office to report the incident at 360-650-3307. CASAS is also available to provide support at (360) 650-3700.


    • That was one of multiple instances where the guy asked for her number? It is an example of confining to push n not take “no” for an answer


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