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The Pottruck Fitness Center, now completely constructed with four floors draws a large crowd of lifters and university personel. Credit: Chau Lam

For graduate students sweating over the annual Pottruck membership rates, a change will soon be in order.

Working with the administration, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and SASgov —the School of Arts and Sciences graduate student government — have lowered the Pottruck Fitness Center membership rate from $360 to $300. The new rate will take effect in August.

“This has been a growing concern among graduate students in recent years,” Maher Zamel, GAPSA chairman and third-year doctoral candidate at the Graduate School of Education said. “Although membership is optional for graduate students, we felt that a substantial price increase would deter prospective students from being able to join Pottruck and get the most out of the great facilities we have on campus.”

In January, GAPSA and SASgov distributed a survey to the graduate student community about recreational facility use on campus. Although the results of the survey have not yet been released, some members of GAPSA also feel a personal connection to the issue.

Maria Murray, GAPSA vice chairwoman for student programs and third-year graduate student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, decided to join Bally Total Fitness in Rittenhouse Square this year because the center offered a more affordable membership plan than Pottruck.

“When I joined Bally’s, I felt like I lost a sense of community and the opportunity to meet other Penn students outside classes,” Murray said.

Lauren Friedman, SASgov vice president of policy and third-year graduate student in the School of Arts and Sciences, co-wrote the survey along with Murray and feels equally strongly about the initiative.

Friedman, who swapped her Pottruck membership for membership at an off-campus gym this year, said she could relate to other students’ frustration with the Pottruck membership fees.

“It was hard because [the membership] was a full year, and I found myself not really using it sometimes,” she said.

Zamel is pleased with the final results of GAPSA and SASgov’s joint efforts.

“At GAPSA, we are hoping that this change will inherently lead to more graduate students joining Pottruck and Fox gyms in the long term,” he said.

However, the change might not be enough for some students.

While Friedman emphasized that GAPSA made progress with this initiative, she says she will not be rejoining Pottruck once the new rates take effect since it is still too expensive.

The initiative was one step in opening up communication between the administration, GAPSA and Penn’s graduate schools, she said.

Some graduate students would also like to see more flexible Pottruck membership options.

“I would be more interested in a month-by-month plan or a seasonal plan because I do most of my exercise outside,” Laurel MacKenzie, a fifth-year Linguistics graduate student, said. “It seems unnecessary to have to join for a full year when I would only use it for five or six months.”

Madeline Wilcox, a fourth-year graduate student, echoed MacKenzie’s sentiments.

“For students who spend long periods of time away from campus pursuing their research, Pottruck is impractical because they only offer 12 month memberships,” she wrote in an email. “The membership structure hasn’t really matched the graduate student lifestyle or budget very well up to this point.”

She added, however, that the current initiative is a “step in the right direction.”

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