After hearing news that students were unhappy with the full t-shirt policy in place at the University of Rhode Island fitness centers, the staff decided to take an in-depth look at the gym’s policies and redefine them.

Originally, the full t-shirt policy was initiated seven years ago because of a Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) outbreak on campus. Not only was the policy in place to prevent gym users from getting skin infections, but to reduce subjectivity of the clothing and to promote the same standard of a full t-shirt. Last semester, Coordinator of Fitness and Wellness Programs Leticia Orozco had the chance to provide the senate with some of the history about where and how the staff decided on the policy. She said that the meeting allowed students to ask questions and become more aware of why the policy is important.

Afterward, Orozco and her team “did their homework” and sat down with people across the divisions of student affairs as well as directors across campus from Health Services, the Counseling Center and the Gender and Equity Committee. Then, she took time to research our peer institutions, including local universities within the state, and looked at the standards across the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the college professional association for campus recreation (NURSA.) Orozco also took time to talk with the staff who work in fitness and wellness, since these are the people who have to address this concern on a daily basis. After a few more meetings with the student senate, Orozco sat down with her supervisor and put together a proposal.

As of Jan. 23, the policy has changed. The new policy states:

“For safety, public health issues, body image and to protect the facility/ equipment, proper exercise attire is required at all times. The mid-section, chest, and entire area between the shoulder blades on all individuals must be fully covered at all times. Full- length, unaltered sleeveless shirts as well as racer-back tops that do not expose areas as defined above, are acceptable. The buttocks and groin must be fully covered at all times. Any article of (or combination of) clothing that exposes the mid-section, chest, or area between the shoulder blades, buttock, or groin are not acceptable.”

Orozco said that any clothing which exposes a person’s arms is fine, but they are prohibiting exposure of the lower back or sides. Orozco said that as recommended by the CDC, the staff wants there to be a barrier between the gym users and the equipment, including mats and benches.

“We are really just trying to have an inviting environment too,” Orozco said. “We have lots of tours that come in this facility – a bunch of prospective students, parents and their family. We still want to maintain a proper appearance and we want to showcase the best of the student body here.”

She said that the primary goal of the fitness and wellness centers is safety and then user experience. Orozco said they clarified the fact that you may take your shoes off with socks on when stretching on a mat, but you can’t be walking around the facility in just socks or barefoot, unless in the yoga studio. If there was any sort of vague policy, the staff tried to clarify it so they can be as clear as possible in what they are expecting of the student body.

Although Orozco said there are many other institutions which continue to use the full t-shirt policy, and there are ample reasons why it is an easier policy to enforce, it was very “clear cut” and the students were unhappy. She wants students to know that she is not trying to be strict, but rather educating people on how to take care of themselves to prevent them from accidents.

To her surprise, there haven’t been any problems so far with the new policy in place. She made sure to spread the word about the policy within the first two weeks, and if a staff member had to tell someone they were wearing inappropriate clothing, there was not any resistance.

“We really do try to make the best decisions for all the people and all the bodies – regardless if they’re faculty or staff or students – to ensure a safe, healthy and a great experience in the building,” Orozco said. “If that took revisiting the policies after seven years, then I’m happy that we have a positive response right now. We’re very pleased with the outcome thus far –  it has been a positive one for the staff and I think the students as well.”

To view a full list of the gyms’ policies and featured activities next week, visit web.uri.edu/campusrec/.