When walking into the weight room at Pamplin Sports Center, a board in the front of the facility outlines the policies and procedures. At the bottom of the board, in bold, it reads: “appropriate athletic attire must be worn at all times.” The notice then goes on to further specify that this means “no jeans, no sandals, no high heels, no bare feet.” Below that statement, written in the smallest font present on the board, is a more specific guideline: “Shirts that do not cover the mid-section are considered inappropriate.”
Pamplin Sports Center’s Head Strength and Conditioning, Coach Angela Dendas-Pleasant, offers some insight into this dress code. Prior to her employment at Lewis & Clark, these rules were already said to be put in place for the purpose of maintaining hygiene and promoting safety in the sports center.
“(This is a) very kind of standard approach that you would see … across other institutions in terms of their recreation center and what they require…” Dendas-Pleasant said, “Our policies are in place for safety reasons, you know, hygiene reasons.”
Dendas-Pleasant explains that undergraduate students are not the only ones with access to the weight room, and also not the only ones who must adhere to these rules. Graduate students and residents in the general community also have the option of using the fitness center.
The dress code is explained that it makes the center feel welcoming for the wide array of people using it. However, there remains no clear explanation given as to how wearing a sports bra or cropped shirt would contribute to discomfort or hygiene issues. If there is an explanation, it is not provided, and the rule simply leaves female-identifying people feeling alienated. A female-identifying student who has been left anonymous, has been asked to change her choice of clothing on two separate occasions when exercising in Pamplin Sports Center.
An anonymous student describes this experience.
“When I asked why I couldn’t wear a cropped top, he said it’s because according to the rules they are not allowed,” the anonymous student explained. “That was his only explanation. The next time I went, I tied up a normal t-shirt, it wasn’t a cropped top, it didn’t look like a cropped top. So I don’t really know why he came again to tell me I couldn’t wear that.” The anonymous student continued. “I used to go to the gym every day at home, and wear a sports bra, so it’s just really weird that I can’t do that here.”
Although creating an inclusive space for everyone appears to be the goal of this dress code, in reality, it creates an exclusionary environment for women. This dress code restricts women from wearing the athletic attire that feels most comfortable for them, and for this reason it is an innately gendered rule. The result of this policy is that women have to choose between altering their choice of clothing for the sake of the sports center’s rule, or go elsewhere in order to feel comfortable in their bodies and welcomed as individuals.
“I don’t really want to go to Pamplin anymore,” the anonymous student said. “Usually, I am used to wearing a sports bra and I feel very comfortable when I’m doing exercise in that … and now that I know I can’t do that, I would kinda just stay in my room or go running, where I can feel comfortable and wear what I want.”
The term “inappropriate” is perhaps the most questionable aspect of this policy. Deeming the midsection as “inappropriate, implies that this particular area of the body should not be seen, and furthermore, that it will inevitably be sexualized.
It is this kind of verbiage that limits women in particular. There is no precedent demonstrating why wearing such clothing in a gym setting is a dangerous act, other than the fact that it leaves women feeling sexualized and excluded from yet another group.