Tuesday, February 26, 2008


To accommodate Muslim students, Harvard tries women-only gym hours by Abbie Ruzicka

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.

Though the policy was in part initiated by the school's Islamic group, Aljawhary said women-only hours are not a case of "minority rights trumping majority preference" and said women of different faiths have showed interest in the hours.

"We live together in one community, it only makes sense for everyone to compromise slightly in order for everyone to live happily," she said. "This matter is simple: Can't we just display basic decency and show tolerance and inclusion for people not a part of the mainstream majority?"

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.

"I guess as long as the time is divvied up fairly, there should be no issue," he said.

Boston University Islamic Society President Mohamed Serageldin said he thinks women-only gym hours would benefit Muslim women at BU.

"Because the FitRec is co-ed, [a Muslim woman] would most likely be compromising her modesty. He said modesty can be compromised on both the part of the man and the woman when physical action is involved."

BU's Fitness and Recreation Center facilities manager Alex Southall said FitRec's design easily accommodates sectioning off areas for groups.

"It depends on the arrangement with the particular group, so we aren't playing favorites with space, but the FitRec does have the capability to section off for special use," he said.

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To accommodate Muslim students, Harvard tries women-only gym hours

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