Engineering freshman Dara Elass wears long sleeves, pants and a burkha, a head scarf traditionally worn by Muslim women, every time she pays a visit to Pottruck. She follows traditional Islamic law, which requires that women cover up in the presence of men - even at the gym.
But if Penn follows in Harvard University's footsteps, students like Elass might be able to shed their layers.
Last month, Harvard implemented women-only hours at its Quadrangle Recreation Athletic Center in an effort to allow Muslim women to exercise in a more carefree setting. For six hours each week, only women are permitted to enter the facility - a rule that makes some males on campus unhappy.
"They're commandeering a community space," Harvard sophomore Adam Moss said in an article that appeared in The Harvard Crimson.
The new policy, which is an "experimental situation" according to Harvard associate athletics director Jeremy Gibson, will be evaluated in the coming months and the athletics continue the policy or make it permanent.
Though Elass acknowledged that all-women gym hours might be "inconvenient" for others, she said such a policy would make her feel far more comfortable.
"I would have more freedom to take off my scarf and wear short sleeves," she said. "It would just make life easier."
Elass said she never went to the gym last semester because she couldn't get used to the idea of working out in front of males. Her physical-education classes in Bahrain were always segregated by gender.
"I don't feel comfortable stretching, sweating or exercising in front of guys," she said.
Athletic Department spokesman Mike Mahoney said no one has approached Penn Athletics yet with such an idea, and added that women-only hours would be "hard to pull off" at Pottruck .
He pointed out first that Harvard's QRAC was one of several different fitness centers on its campus, while Pottruck is Penn's primary workout facility.
Men on the street would still be able to view users during women-only hours due to the building's architecture and glass windows.
Though Mahoney said the department would be open to discussing the issue, he added that it would be a "difficult juggling act" to carry out such an initiative based on the original purpose of the building.
"When Pottruck was opened, it was a center that was open to the entire community and in that sense it was supposed to bring people together - black, white, Asian, Muslim, male and female," he said.
College junior and Muslim Students Association vice president Amanda El-Dakhakhni said that many Muslim students and faculty members have suggested that such a policy be implemented.
"I think there's a significant number of women that would take advantage of it," she said.
Although there has not yet been a push for a policy similar to Harvard's, "it's definitely wanted," she said. "This might be the next step of making [the MSA] known on campus."
El-Dakhakhni suggested making one level of Pottruck women-only for a few hours instead of closing the entire facility, an idea that Mahoney said would likely be unfeasible because "the building is open for everybody."Comments powered by Disqus
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