A study done by two communication students found a stark difference between who is pumping iron and who is getting their run on.
Seniors Erin Johnson and Emma Winkelman partnered for their communications capstone project in order to study how comfortable students are in different areas of the Rudolf Fitness Center (RFC) based on gender.
The duo examined the two major sections of the gym: the upstairs, which houses mostly cardio equipment like treadmills and ellipticals, and the downstairs area, which is where weightlifting equipment is located.
They chose this topic for their project because they have had very different experiences in the gym throughout their time in high school and at Gonzaga.
Johnson came into GU very comfortable in the weightlifting section of the gym because she grew up lifting weights and playing competitive basketball.
“Coming to the RFC I was really comfortable in the weight room area and I expected other women to be similar to me and I was shocked that there weren’t as many women in the weight room as I had anticipated,” Johnson said. “So I wanted to do something to figure out not only what was going on at a deeper level but also figure out what we could do to create a more inclusive space and figure out how we could make people feel like the RFC is a place for everyone.”
Winkelman had the opposite experience. She played tennis in high school but had no experience lifting weights. When she came to GU, she wanted to stay active.
“I realized the discomfort I felt in the RFC was because I had never learned how to weightlift and I had never learned how to use a gym, so I was uncomfortable,” she said.
Both Johnson and Winkelman noticed early in their time at GU that the RFC seemed to be divided between the downstairs which seemed to be mostly men, and the upstairs which was mostly women or a mix.
So they began their research in order to figure out why that was.
To find this information, they began by passing out surveys in the Hemmingson Center. They created two surveys, one for people who are users of the RFC and one for those who are not. They then focused on the survey answers from those who were users.
Their data found that of the 31 female RFC users surveyed, 97% felt most welcome upstairs, while 3% felt most welcome downstairs. In regards to downstairs, 94% felt least welcome downstairs and 6% answered other, which could mean the pool, track or basketball courts, among others. The average comfortability was 7.12, on a scale of one to ten where one is least comfortable.
Of the 29 male RFC users surveyed it was reported that 38% felt most welcome downstairs, 38% upstairs, 19% both and 6% other.
A total of 37% felt least welcome downstairs, 33% upstairs, 29% other. The average comfortability for men was 8.06.
Winkelman and Johnson also noted that four of the men surveyed identified as queer and all four of those men felt most welcome upstairs and least welcome downstairs.
Both Winkelman and Johnson understand that the segregation of the RFC is not only a GU issue, but a societal issue. They acknowledge that it is not only at GU that men prefer to lift and women prefer to do cardio, but they believe GU and the RFC can do a better job of chipping away at that separation.
“It’s also societal stereotypes,” Johnson said. “Within the last about 30 years it’s been this societal body type for men to be beefy and strong and women to be lean and fit, and [weightlifting and cardio] are the two exercise realms that cater to those body types. So I think that’s why those two genders flock to those spaces in the RFC and in gym all across the world.”
Moving forward, the pair wants to use their findings to create advocacy to make the RFC a more inclusive and comfortable space for all.
Winkelman suggested a few ways in which this could be achieved.
“One of the most common things we heard in our interviews is to limit the segregation between the two floors,” she said. “So like moving around equipment so there’s a few treadmills downstairs and some free weights upstairs.”
She also noted that, as students, that goal is not as easily attained.
The pair has also spoken with Jose Hernandez, the director of the RFC, in order to implement more programming that introduces weightlifting to beginners. While a program called “Learn to Lift”, which teaches specifically women how to lift, does exist, Winkelman believes it is not offered often enough
“We want to invite the RFC to create a program that from the start of the year is open to all students, especially first-years,” she said. “We want to start it very early in the school year so students can have the opportunity from day one.”