Students at the University of Rhode Island are fighting back against the rule banning tank tops at fitness centers across campus.
Last week, URI students started a Change.org petition to revoke the rule. The petition has already garnered over 1,580 out of 2,500 supporters wanted. In the petition, students said, “By doing this, we would promote a more comfortable environment where individuals can feel confident in their own skin.” Students also included that the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) states, “Wearing tank tops or sleeveless shirts while working out can help prevent heat exhaustion and work to prevent sudden death in collegiate conditioning sessions.”
Olivia Morrow, URI freshman, explained how she was excited to go to the gym with her friends during her first week at the university, but after arriving in tank tops they were asked to leave by staff members. She was not only frustrated because she just bought three new tank tops, but also because the rule was not explained in detail.
“I think it’s unfair because I’ve been to three different gyms and I’ve never heard of a rule like this,” Morrow said. “I understand that some people are saying it’s a sanitation issue but the gyms here are trying to keep everything clean because they do have wiping cloths and towels and as long as people keep things clean, then it shouldn’t be an issue.”
Victoria Tonno, student and Fitness Center attendant at the Anna Fascitelli Fitness and Wellness Center, said that she’s never heard of this rule until coming to URI, but it is her job to make sure that the environment is safe and to reinforce the policies set in place.
“The policy feels irritating, but I understand it’s roots,” Tonno said. “As a gym user, I would love to be able to wear a tank top since I sweat a lot at the gym. However, I believe the policy is sensible. I would change the policy since everyone I know dislikes [it,] also because I own a lot of gym tanks and this policy isn’t enforced in many other places.”
Coordinator of Fitness and Wellness programs, Leticia Orozco, explained that the full t-shirt policy was initiated seven years ago because there was a MRSA outbreak on campus. She said that there are three important reasons that the policy remains in place.
First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the best way to prevent yourself from skin infections is to create a barrier between yourself and the equipment. People are highly susceptible to MRSA, influenza or a staph infections, especially when they do not practice proper hygiene, and not everyone does.
“We do everything we can possibly do to wipe down the equipment and ensure that we are providing a safe environment, but the reality is that we have so much traffic that it is absolutely impossible to keep up with the demand,” Orozco said. “So we encourage students to take it on themselves to create that barrier.”
Orozco said that another reason for the policy is to reduce any subjectivity on the matter. There are many different variations of a tank top, and after discussing with the staff, it was difficult to determine what was considered okay and what wasn’t. So, Orozco found that the way to be clear with her staff and in order for them to be able to do their jobs best, they decided on a full t-shirt.
The final reasoning for the policy relates to body image. Orozco explained that the university encompasses faculty, staff, and students of all ages, body types and backgrounds. There are tours which come through the facility with lots of prospective students, and Orozco wants to present the “best inclusive environment” possible, and by doing so, everyone has to have the same standard: a full t-shirt.
Orozco said that she fully supports students voicing their concerns, but she wished the person who initiated the petition came to speak to her first. She said that the staff is not trying to take away any form of self expression from students or the ability to wear what they want. It’s purely for the staff to ensure as much protection as possible. Even if a student does not have a shirt with them, she said that a staff member asks if they would like to buy a shirt, and in the worse case scenario, they have to go back to their dorm and grab one.
“I’m not trying to make people conform, I’m really just concerned about keeping everyone as safe as possible and I can’t guarantee their safety,” Orozco said. “So, by them taking (it) into their own control, dressing appropriately and wiping down machines like we do as a staff, we’ll do everything we can. But we’re just asking the students to also take some of this responsibility. You wash your hands because it’s flu season, so why not put on a full t-shirt to protect yourself from skin diseases.”
In order to make amends, Orozco has already reached out to the vice president of student affairs and is on the docket to speak with the URI Student Senate. She said that she is very open to talking about the tank top ban, and has conducted research that shows there is minimal difference in thermal temperature between working out in a regular cotton t-shirt and a tank top.
For more information about the gym’s polcies, visit http://web.uri.edu/campusrec/fascitelli/ and to view the petition, visit https://www.change.org/p/students-and-faculty-of-uri-revoke-the-no-tank-top-rule-at-the-gym.