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University defends fitness center dress code amid controversy

U. counters claims of sexist dress policy after recent incidents regarding skin exposure

Staff Writer
Sunday, January 29, 2017

Two Rhode Island School of Design students recently reported that they had been asked to leave the Nelson Fitness Center for not complying with the dress policy because they were exposing their midriffs. The two women claim Brown’s dress policy is sexist and discriminatory toward women, while University officials have defended the rules as maintaining proper hygiene.

Last spring, Elizabeth Dimitroff, a RISD student, was told by a Nelson employee to cover up or leave when she worked out in a “sports bra with high-waisted leggings,” Dimitroff said.

But Nelson Fitness Center Manager Jason Bishoff defended the rule as necessary for ensuring proper hygiene, noting that the “rules to reduce skin contact with workout equipment have been in place since the facility opened.”   

He said the dress code requiring midriffs to be covered is in place exclusively for sanitary purposes and that it applies to both men and women.

Chloe Karayiannis, a RISD student, had a similar experience this winter break when an employee approached her about her workout attire, she said.

“It doesn’t matter whether or not it applies to men as well because it’s sending the message that what I’m wearing is not respectable and associates what I’m wearing with respect,” she said.

There are “so many mixed messages in society,” she said. “Most advertisements show women working out in sports bras,” she added. “That’s the norm in marketing, and then it’s suddenly immodest in the Brown gym?”

While the University is not altering the dress policy, “this is a good opportunity to have a conversation about these issues,” said Deputy Director of Athletics Colin Sullivan.

The Nelson Fitness Center employee who asked Karayiannis to leave said that her skin exposure could make other gym goers uncomfortable, Karayiannis said.

Dimitroff said that she sees the dress code, which requires individuals to cover their midriff, as targeting women just to make men more comfortable.

“It’s kind of odd to place the blame on women and the way that women dress,” Dimitroff said. “It seems to be that this policy blames women for something that men need to change about how they view women’s bodies.”

But Bishoff and Sullivan refuted the employee’s argument that Karayiannis’ wardrobe made others uncomfortable as reasoning for the policy.

“We need to continue to have conversations with our staff if one of these individuals felt that the reason for our dress code was about something other than hygiene,” Sullivan said.

Both Karayiannis and Dimitroff were surprised this happened on Brown’s campus.

“I felt angry, especially that it was the Brown gym,” Dimitroff said.  “This seems like such a liberal setting, and usually the school is more progressive on these kinds of things.”

Athena Washburn ’18 disagreed with the University’s dress code, saying “sweaty thighs are just as bad as a sweaty torso, and women are more likely to be wearing outfits that expose their midriffs, so it’s an unfair policy.” Julianna Brown ’18 agreed with Washburn, saying that she did not “understand why midriffs specifically need to be covered.”

Some students understood the University’s reasoning.

“It makes sense that the University would want students to cover their midriff to reduce the amount of skin contact to equipment,” said Andrew Thomson ’18. “As long as it applies equally to men and women, then it’s a fair policy.”       

“We don’t want anybody to feel that this is targeted at them,” Bishoff said. “These rules apply to all genders, all ages, all populations. There’s no bias whatsoever.”

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  1. TheRationale says:

    Simple question: What is the evidence on the matter? Do these exposed regions actually create an increased health risk? And what of other exposed regions? Public health in a gym is a perfectly valid concern, but on the other hand if there’s no evidence supporting the existing policies, there’s no way to defend them.

    • Getting sweat everywhere is an objective health concern. Bodily fluids are transmitters of disease, sweat is a bodily fluid. Do you need evidence to understand why gyms have wipe down naps and signs everywhere that say to sterilize the equipment with wipes after using them? Wearing clothing and reducing the exposure of bare skin to equipment and hence transference to others, is an objectively valid heath concern. If you don’t think so, go ahead and use a bench immediately after a large, 300 pound, profusely sweating, hairy man peels his back off the pad while you simultaneously notice he has some kind of infected rash on it. Go ahead, because after all, to ask him to wear a shirt would be sexist, right?

      • TheRationale says:

        No need to get insecure about your benching. I asked this question because I assumed it would be easy to answer (apparently it was stressful). I support the dress code. I asked for evidence to spare everyone having to listen to oppressed Brown students bloviating about sexism. That way we can say, “Look, the medical and public health studies are sound. Put your damn shirt on” and be done with it.

  2. Suppose there was no disease and no health rationale for the policy. I would still be uncomfortable if male-bodied people exercised without their chests or midriffs covered in the space. It’s not that I find them irresistibly sexy. I just don’t want to have sweaty man-chests all around me (besides that can trigger negative experiences).

    What if someone wanted to wanted to workout without any clothes? As a community, we probably agree that we want people to wear clothes at the gym. Any agreement on the amount of clothing we’ll wear is going to have some arbitrary classifications and those classifications should not be defined with regard to gender (or anything else for the matter!). So as much as I love going for a run outside in my leggings and sports bra, I think we should all wear shirts at the gym.

    • Chloe Karaii says:

      Then the policy should be that a top must be worn.

      The argument here is that woman’s attire in sports (and other aspects of life) must include covering her breasts for “modesty”. Therefore a sports bra/top should be recognised as doing so. To insist that you must cover every inch below your belly button and above your waist is excessive. Especially since it is not considered immodest (especially) in sport, let alone anywhere else.

      • Did you miss the part where they clearly state that this is about health concerns? Good lord, you ideologues are desperate to see -ism’s everywhere. It’s not about modesty, its about people not getting sweat everywhere. Modern workout gear is good at moisture wicking and keeping sweating, and sweat, contained and minimized. The wording of the policy is what upsets you, when in reality, you should be focused on WHY the policy is set up the way it is. The whining and obnoxiousness of feminism is hurting the cause and this article is case in point.

    • What in the hell is a male-bodied person? You mean a man or a male? The speech codes and Orwellian newspeak of the left and gender ideologues is ridiculous. And what negative experiences is someone going to have by seeing a mans chest? The infantilizing of women, as being unable to see a mans chest without being triggered, is hurting women’s empowerment and independence. Finally, the classifications are NOT defined by gender, as they are identical. Like it or not, biology exists, men and women are different, and no amount of word salad and redefining of objective reality will change that. The TRUTH matters, not ideological orthodoxy or far left academic gender theories that are not based in objective, empirical science.

  3. Dynamic Kreature says:

    “While the University is not altering the dress policy, “this is a good opportunity to have a conversation about these issues,” said Deputy Director of Athletics Colin Sullivan.” This poor guy, having to waste his day speaking babytalk to a bunch of confused lemmings.

    • And the full extent of that conversation should be “The same rules apply to everyone who comes here to work out. Don’t like it? Tough.”

  4. I wish I had the free time in life that some people have to be upset about these things.

    • Would you settle for having the time to read – and post commented about – articles about these things?

  5. These two idiot women obviously don’t know what “sexist and discriminatory” means! It’s not sexist or discriminatory if the same rules apply to everyone.

  6. Brown is awful. I especially liked the story about the University having a debate on rape culture and the school had to set up a “safe space” for students with bubble blowers, play dough, and videos of puppies frolicking because they couldn’t even handle the fact that the debate was even happening. The US is doomed if this type of ideology is allowed to indoctrinate students going forward.

  7. I don’t like the idea of people having their sweat on the machines either but then an easier solution might be asking students to bring towels. Sure the policy may not be discriminatory but it is still infringing on people’s freedom. I don’t see why a different dress code should be enforced in the gym as people will wear whatever makes them comfortable.

  8. Andriy Chybisov says:

    C’mon, Brown, really?! The amount of skin contact? What a lame excuse! There is a large supply of antibacterial wipes near each workout station, and people are supposed to wipe the equipment after use. Also, if it’s about hygiene – why don’t you clean everything off every evening? Library desks are so dirty – because of skin and dust contact – I don’t think cleaning stuff ever wipe those off, and suddenly, you care about the way patrons dress in the gym! I thought the history of swimsuits had informed the humanity’s progress, and not going back back into prehistory.

  9. So the ladies there are okay with men wearing short shirts that expose hairy, sweaty abs and back ?

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