“Women+Weights” Empowers Rowan’s Female Students

Mackenzie Raymond and Maria Espejo stand at the entrance of the weight room. - Photo / Lawrence Mendoza

“Women+Weights” returns to Rowan’s Rec Center this semester to create a comfortable space for those who identify as women to work out without masculine pressures.

The program is running from Oct. 4 to Dec. 10 and is offered three times a week. The Recreation Center offers the program on Tuesdays from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 to 11:30 a.m. The Fitness Center Weight Room also offers a session on Fridays from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

 “The Women+Weights initiative intends to empower women-identifying individuals of the Rowan Community by providing a space in the weight room for us to support, uplift, and motivate each other. Everybody is welcome – all shapes, sizes, backgrounds – whether you are new to the gym setting or a frequent attendee, we hope to workout along with you,” Mackenzie Raymond, the graduate coordinator of fitness and wellness, said in an email.

The program dates back to 2016. In the past year, Raymond and the Rec Center ran reports on people who typically use the weight room and found that there were low representations from people who are women or people who didn’t select a gender identity, which is what the “+” is meant to represent.

“We worked with the Office of Accessibility and Inclusion to kind of figure out the best way and more inclusive way to go about including more people in our space,” Raymond said. “We wanted to make sure that we understand that ‘women’ goes beyond just what you’re born as and biological definitions. So we wanted to include anyone who identifies, in their eyes, as what a woman is. We added the plus sign so that we could be inclusive of all identities– all gender identities.”

Undergraduate and postgraduate students have been using the dedicated time slots to break a sweat without the presence of those who identify as men possibly making their workouts more challenging or awkward. 

“I definitely think it offers a way more welcoming environment to those who might not be comfortable coming into the weight room during normal hours,” said Hope Vivian, a Rowan graduate. “I know that sometimes I even get intimidated just trying to do simple weights with all the masculinity in here is definitely sometimes overwhelming. So, I think it’s a great opportunity for women to be able to come in here.”

Others weren’t aware of the program but took advantage of it when they stumbled upon the weight room with women.

“I didn’t even know it was happening today, I just kinda walked in and I was like ‘Oh my God, there’s no men,’ so it was nice,” said Emily Gizzi, a sophomore advertising major. “I’ve never deadlifted and I really want to deadlift and I don’t feel pressured to be embarrassed, so I’m gonna try deadlifting.”

These four and a half hours a week dedicated to women allow those who may not have taken advantage of the weight room to do so unbothered. 

“It’s kind of nice, it feels like everyone else can kind of just keep to themself, it’s really quiet, there’s no grunting,” Gizzi said. “Like to each their own but, it’s just awkward listening to people, like, grunt.”

Although this program allows those who identify as women to use the weight room uninterrupted by men, it doesn’t mean the men have not interrupted. Some men have expressed feelings of being inconvenienced or that it’s not fair to them. 

“It’s really important to prioritize space for those who don’t normally have a seat at the table … In order to create change and create spaces for people, there are going to be people upset, but the rest of the gym is open and our other facility, everything is open,” Raymond said.

Because the gym is a public facility open to all Rowan students, the program leaders cannot physically force a man to leave the room during the time slots on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but they hope men can understand and respect the message and initiative behind the program.

“Having my program monitors have these conversations with these men who are upset … it’s foreseeing the program monitors out of their comfort zone to talk about diversity– to advocate for people in the room. So I feel like even beyond just participation, there’s other ways that it’s building diversity.”

Program leaders Raymond and Maria Espejo encourage women to come and work out together. They urge them to explore the strength they have within themselves and within this community.

“We have a personal trainer here, so everyone’s goal is to support you. You could have never lifted a weight before or you could be lifting weights five days a week and you’re welcome here,” Raymond said. “I just hope people know that this is a place where they’re valued.”

Those interested can register on the Rec center’s portal at campusrec.rowan.edu under Programs. 

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