Abbie Ruzicka, Daily Free Press (Harvard), February 25, 2008
Harvard University has moved to make Muslim women more comfortable in the gym by instituting women-only access times six hours a week to accommodate religious customs that make it difficult for some students to work out in the presence of men.
Men have not been allowed to enter the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Center during certain times since Jan. 28, after members of the Harvard Islamic Society and the Harvard Women’s Center petitioned the university for a more comfortable environment for women.
Harvard Islamic Society’s Islamic Knowledge Committee officer Ola Aljawhary, a junior, said the women-only hours are being tested on a trial basis. The special gym hours will be analyzed over Spring Break to determine if they will continue, she said.
Aljawhary said that she does not believe that the women-only gym hours discriminate against men.
“These hours are necessary because there is a segment of the Harvard female population that is not found in gyms not because they don’t want to work out, but because for them working out in a co-ed gym is uncomfortable, awkward or problematic in some way,” she said.
Harvard junior Nick Wells said he believes the women-only hours are inconvenient for the residents that live near the facility and discriminate against men.
“It is unfair to impose a stringent policy that inhibits [students] from using their own facility in order to further a useless policy that doesn’t have any real effect,” he said.
“I don’t mind that Harvard is trying to give space to women and religious minorities, it’s just that it seems that it’s not making a real effort,” Wells said. “Just one that is impractical and purely symbolic at the cost of people like myself.”
Wells lives near the Quad, and said the response to and use of the women-only gym hours so far has been underwhelming.
Harvard freshman Kyle Harasimowicz said women-only gyms have been successful and women-only gym hours fill the same need.