athleticscomplexwebSome of you may be tempted to read this rant as just noise—but that’s your inner yogi’s choice. Where a yogi’s voice counts for nothing, then we’ve got a political problem.

We should assume that the founding director of Trent Athletics and Recreation, P.S.B. Wilson, who also happened to serve from 1966 to 2002, would not be impressed by Trent’s Athletics Complex’s current policy towards participants of the group fitness classes. Indeed, there is a double standard.

P.S.B. Wilson, on a commemorative plaque on the way up to the second floor of the AC, tells us about the heart and soul of sport at the university, and ensured the successful core values of “Sport for All.”

Given this stated mission of values, we need to ask, what counts as sport and what doesn’t? Or otherwise, who is the ‘All’ for which sports count, and which is the segment of the student population for whom they don’t? We need to ask this because a group fitness pass, on top of the AC membership all students are obliged to pay, is at worst a tax on those who prefer to exercise through the fitness classes, and, at best, a poorly thought-out economic policy. Most likely, it is a mix of these two. Now we are asking why this is.

The group fitness pass, now symbolized by a bracelet on the wrist, is something that the AC management has thought prudent to ask of the students who come to the AC to do yoga, Zumba, Socasize, and a number of other group fitness activities. There are rumours that it has been getting exponentially pricier over the years. There has also been the occasional “explanation” from management that this extra fee should be complied with because, of something along the lines of, “Our instructors are really very good, above average, and most other gyms around the city charge much more than students pay for a membership here.”

Certainly, many of the instructors are very good. Moreover, they all deserve to be well paid, just as we expect them all to be quite good. It is curious then, that given this explanation for the extra fee, how management has not done more to show appreciation for their fitness class instructors. From what I know, the instructors don’t get free access to each other’s classes. You would think at least this “perk,” if not a full-on gym membership, could be doled out as bonus for the excellent work they do. It would cost the AC next to nothing to offer their employees this simple gesture. Not to mention, imagine the ideas that could be shared among instructors if they were not only allowed but also encouraged to take a colleague’s class every now and then.
To have very good instructors should not be a bargaining point with the AC’s customers because, let’s not forget, we the students are the AC’s biggest customers and its raison d’etre! One of the AC administration’s main goals should be to have fitness instructors who know what they’re doing, and who inspire students to come back for more exercise, fitness and relaxation.

While this yogi concurs with the administration’s appraisal of many of their fitness professionals, it doesn’t condone this as a valid reason for charging this extra fee to students who want to take these classes. As for other gyms around the city charging more, how understandable! They, unlike the AC, are not student-funded facilities. If it weren’t for the obligatory athletics ancillary fee, paid by every full-time student without the option to opt-out, there would be no athletics complex on campus. So why then, despite this assured flow of business, does the AC act as though its community members are more important?

Indeed, there is hypocrisy at work in the AC’s group fitness pass policy; it reads “All Classes Free for Members!” It then goes on to explain, “All group fitness classes are free for community members. Trent University students can participate in all group fitness classes by purchasing a group fitness pass for $30 per term.” What are we to think then, that we are not members? It’s our university athletics centre!

If sports really are to be for “all” who pay full-time tuition to Trent, then management can’t be insisting that students pay extra for partaking in the offered group fitness classes. Surely P.S.B. Wilson didn’t mean that only swimming, wall-climbing, and working out at machines, are what count for sports. And if he did, or rather, if the current AC management wishes for it to mean that, then they must amend the plaque on the second floor with an important footnoted asterisk.

The same amendments should then go onto the website and the pamphlets which the university so proudly presents to prospective students who visit every fall and spring. There are those of us paying for a student membership who aren’t inclined to work-out at a machine, on the courts, or in the swimming pool for that matter, but find it more invigorating and part of a healthier life-style to stretch and dance and work the body out through fun obstacle courses that another person has thoughtfully put together.

Another thing to consider is how university is meant to be a place and time in people’s lives where they expose themselves to new things. Charging an extra fee discourages students from exploring the several different, interesting fitness classes on offer, and goes blatantly against this educational objective.

In lieu of making amendments to the impression being given, that Trent is a university with an athletics complex that provides “Sport for All,” the AC should immediately suspend this flawed policy. Considering that in the student population at large, there are far less students who have bought a bracelet than students who have yet to, and considering that the AC should be encouraging all students to make use of their athletics centre membership rather than discouraging them in this kind of way, it makes the most sense for student members who have unfairly paid extra to partake in sports this term, to receive a refund into their student accounts.

Now, perhaps the problem lies entirely elsewhere, which makes it no less of a problem. Given that the AC management has deemed it fair to demand an extra fee from students for taking part in their fitness classes, we might surmise that they must be experiencing a shortage of funds with which to manage the facility. However, for them to take the steps to make up for this shortage by charging extra to those would prefer to exercise in the context of a group, led by a flesh and bones instructor, is clear discrimination.

Should we suggest they demand an extra fee from the students who come to workout in the newly built exercise machine room? All those machines must’ve cost a bundle, and what a nice room they got to put them in!ACopinionarticleWEB

It is true that the fitness schedule is looking curiously more sparse, but surely, in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, such bad policy can’t be preferred by our administrative schemes. Investing more heavily in automated exercise instruments will not contribute to helping anybody in Peterborough who is desperately seeking employment and has so much to offer in the way of talent and skills. The university is a proud source of employment in the community and should take the lead in being a therapeutic instrument for the health of our economies. Isn’t that part of the whole point of getting an education?

We are all becoming too familiar with the even starker unemployment rate for graduates. Herein lies another reason for why the AC should not be trying to discourage people from participating in their fitness classes: more participation in a class should translate into heavier investment, both in the form of remuneration for the instructor responsible, and also in terms of infrastructure.

Where did the $1 million plus funds to redo the AC go? Certainly not to the infrastructure that could’ve made fitness classes that much better, and not to mention, more accommodating for ‘All’ to take part in.

Finally, it seems, the real problem emerges: the infrastructure of the multipurpose rooms simply can’t handle the traffic, and so charging students extra may be a way to keep numbers down. If this is another reason for the bracelet fee, it is no less a problem that needs to be addressed.

One has to wonder what the architects of the new and refurbished AC were thinking when they drew up their plans to exclude any notion of a fitness studio—an empty space, a blank canvas—with real character. Sure, compared to the old multi-purpose room, which is still in use, what we got was a space with a nice view, some natural light to filter in, and that’s about it. The space itself is rather unfinished, with an industrial feel to it that some claim to enjoy, but the shape is rather unimaginative and awkward—a simple rectangle.

Another factor to consider is the air quality in both fitness rooms 1 and 2, where breathing deeply as you practice can sometimes feel more toxic than health-inducing. One is compelled to protest with Nietzsche, Bad air! Bad air! How to understand the modern penchant for building spaces without windows to the world outside? On the beautiful land Trent is situated on, not having windows for fresh pine-scented air to waft in appears as a crime of design and architecture!

Perhaps the thoughtful gesture by some instructors to turn out the lights while practicing yoga violates the safety codes and regulations by someone or other’s ‘thoughtful’ standards, and will now have to be “looked into.” Oh, but imagine if there were dimmers along with windows letting in the sunlight! And imagine if there was a skylight. Was that too much to ask for? These design features seem to have confounded the AC architects and planners. Is it likely that no one on the new AC design team had ever taken a fitness class before, so these omissions of careful planning were the result of inexperience?

There are ways around the seemingly omnipotent and omnipresent economic arguments. Investing in alternative energies (like solar cells!) and the wellbeing of your students (with bus shelters! And actually ‘free’ group fitness classes!) are two examples.

However, it is noticeable that any sensible improvement for a mass of people dealing with less than ideal circumstances is unattainable without increasing the price they must pay. But we can be more creative than that, if only we would emancipate ourselves.

As it stands, there is a “part with no part” in the AC’s stated mission of “Sport for All.” And this wrong needs to be corrected. We can do politics as the interruption of a given partition of the sensible [Jacques Ranciere]. Or we can eclipse politics altogether and pretend nobody’s got a problem – that the yogi with a problem is nobody, that their rant is just noise, and that students are not “members.”

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