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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Op-ed: What does the major cut to fitness center hours say about the College’s priorities?

The fitness center at the Charles Benson Bear `39 Recreation and Athletic Center offers weightlifting and cardio options.

We have a great gym here at Grinnell. It’s airy, it’s spacious, it has good machines and equipment and plenty of dumbbells. Most gyms are lucky to have two squat racks. We have six. The fitness center is part of our $90-million Charles Benson Bear `39 Recreation and Athletic Center, which was dedicated in 2012 thanks to generous gifts from alumni. Now, thanks to the College, the fitness center – and the generosity of those alumni – is being wasted.

Students who have never been to our gym might be excited to go try it out. Those students should finish reading this article. This fall, the college slashed gym hours by two hours on the weekdays and by four hours on the weekends. On Saturdays and Sundays, the gym is only open from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.!

In a busy student’s schedule, the only time away from classes, activities and work might be on the weekend. Imagine a student on the weekend who got to lunch right when the Dining Hall opened at 11:30 a.m., faced no line for food, and then ate a quick 30-minute lunch. After waiting the recommended two to three hours to allow their food to digest, it would be around 2 or 3 p.m. They would only have one or two hours before the gym closed at 4 p.m. Hopefully they wouldn’t have anything else to do. Even in this ideal scenario, getting in a full workout would be difficult.

Strength training on the first floor mixed with cardio upstairs can provide the basis of good physical and mental health, especially for non-athletes. Students go to the gym to relieve stress, become better at their sport or simply to improve themselves. As the weather cools and we spend more time indoors, the gym will only become more valuable as a resource. In an age where well-being and mental health should be a focus, making the gym less accessible feels like blatant disregard for student health.

I value and enjoy my time at the gym — as do most people. When I have too many pages to read, too many math problems to solve and too many papers to write, the gym allows me to leave everything else behind. Whether I am trying to lift a heavier weight or run a faster mile, the only thing that matters is pushing myself. I always feel happier, more energetic and more confident when I leave the gym. Making an effort to stay healthy and in shape always feels good. If I have had a bad day in every other possible way, at least I went to the gym. Unless, of course, it is closed.

Many student workers are facing cuts to their hours due to the wage increase that was approved starting this semester. A forty-percent increase in wages has led to a noticeable cut to student hours, and gym workers are no exception. In short, one of the most essential services in our $90-million facility is being squandered for roughly $3.25 an hour. That’s less than the price of a cup of coffee at the Global Cafe. And that seems to be the value of student well-being to Grinnell: the price of a cup of coffee.

Tuition increased by five percent this year. Students should expect a corresponding improvement in the quality of life at Grinnell—or at the very least, they should expect for things to be the same. Reducing gym hours will not make a meaningful difference to any budget, but it will make a meaningful difference to student well-being. This cut in services sends a troubling message that the College expects us to pay more and accept less.

Alumni who gave money to build the Bear should be concerned about how the College is honoring their generosity. Alumni who are considering donating to support student welfare should ask questions about how their money will be spent. Prospective students who see the posted gym hours during their tour will certainly have concerns. Current students are just disappointed. The College needs to respond to these questions and concerns by restoring reasonable gym hours and reflecting on institutional values.

At a minimum, the fitness center should be open as long as the Bear was last semester: from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. While it’s worth noting that those would still be fewer hours than comparable colleges offer, it is the first step. The athletic department told me that they were evaluating the cuts based on community feedback. I encourage the community to respond.


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  • M

    MiaSep 11, 2023 at 9:55 am

    A well written and intelligently argued article! Going to the gym was sometimes the only thing that made me feel sane in college, and I was only able to go after dark most days. I hope a change is made!