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Revisiting Policy: Discrepancies in the University of Northern Colorado’s Student Recreation Center Dress Code Policy and it’s Nod Toward Sexism and Gender Inequality

By Grace Carmichael Davis

October 27, 2018

The University of Northern Colorado (UNCO) prides itself on encouraging inclusivity and striving for gender equality, but there are still policies being enacted that reinforce traditional stigmas on campus. This paper will analyze one of those policies and question those submerged in UNCO’s culture in order to grasp whether or not there is a demand for a change regarding the policy at hand. Discussion in this paper means no ill-will toward the university or university staff, rather this paper will offer feedback and constructive criticisms as to how UNCO can continue to grow to be more inclusive.

The Policy

The policy at hand is enacted at the UNCO student rec center located on west campus. Staff is allowed to approach students when the student is violating the dress code. The staff, upon multiple infractions, may ask students to vacate the premises. The policy is not written in legal format, neither is there a rec center handbook with all center policies listed for students. Students are expected to read either the website definition of the policy which reads, “attire: Shirts (t-shirt or full tank top), athletic bottoms (without zippers or studs) and athletic shoes are required in all activity areas and the group fitness rooms. Athletic shoes must be non-marking and fully enclose the foot. For your safety, excessive clothing (hooded sweatshirts, gloves, vinyl clothing, multiple layers, etc.) is not permitted.”[1] A similar expectation is that students must read the signs hung in the rec center that say shirts must be worn. When questioned about why students cannot wear just sports bras staff provided me with no other reasoning than that it prevents the spread of ringworm disease. On a phone call with Whitney Dyer (she/her/hers), UNCO’s Assistant Director of Outdoor Pursuits & Risk Management, in August 2018, mentioned that there had been no case of ringworm disease brought to her attention since taking up her position within the last year. After this phone call, I set aside more time to discover the ins and outs of ringworm disease, also known as tinea. Further research about ringworm led me to a shocking revelation.

The Discrepancies

While conducting further research on ringworm disease and the spread of it I found that, “it can be passed from one person to the next by direct skin-to-skin contact or by contact with contaminated items such as combs, unwashed clothing, and shower or pool surfaces.”[2] So why then, if ringworm can be spread via clothing, must students be required to wear clothing to prevent the spread of this disease? While tinea manifests on the skin it can be spread through many different ways, not just through skin contact. The most effective way to protect against the spread of tinea is to disinfect equipment after use.

Disinfect At Your Own Risk

Promoting and offering incentives for students to use disinfectant, a proven way to prevent the spread of ringworm disease is a step in the right direction. While disinfecting wipes are provided, students are not made aware of the resource by staff upon entering the facility. Students may go on without knowing the resource is available because there is a lack of signage within the workout facility as well that encourages disinfecting equipment.  

Student-Athletes VS. Students

While rec center staff diligently enforces dress code policy, student-athletes at UNCO are actually allowed more leisure in regard to this policy. Olivia Whitaker (she/her/hers),  a freshman track student who has been participating in track since 2015, stated that she and her teammates were in fact permitted to practice in sports bras during the season. Whitaker also added that “there is no dress code, we can run in sports bras just not lift in them.” She has never faced negative repercussions for wearing a sports bra to practice and believes that ringworm being the reason for  the rec center dress code policy is “a stupid excuse.” Gannen Erikson (he/him/his) is also a freshman student-athlete who has been playing hockey for 15 years and is apart of UNCO’s club hockey team on campus. Although he was not previously aware of the rec center dress code policy, he does not believe the dress code should continue to be enacted. “If the rule exists in one place it should be enacted in all places,” stated Erikson when provided more information about the dress code policy. He also added that “people should be able to work out in what they feel the most comfortable in.” He also believes that there should not be a difference in dress codes depending on whether students are outside or indoors. “I just think it (student attire) should be whatever anyone feels most comfortable in” added Erikson and said that yes, it is unfair that student-athletes are allowed to practice in sports bras and norm students are not, “because I don’t think athletes should be given preferential treatment over normal students” and he considers this policy to be such.

Not only does this information shed light on the unequal treatment of students at the university, but it also demonstrates that norm students may be more susceptible to receive infractions than student-athletes.

Teaching Transferable Skills & Modeling Real Life Scenarios

An argument in favor of continuing to enact the dress code policy, despite its complete inability to be supported by factual evidence at the moment, would be that the dress code would ensure student comfortability when at the rec center. To interpret, comfortability is in regard to emotional/mental comfort rather than physical. In order to ensure student comfortability, it would mean female students would need to keep a top on while working out. But does the effort to desexualize women for another's comfort in turn actually sexualize them more? Having a dress code that does not allow women to wear workout clothing in which they are most comfortable in because of its potential to be ‘too sexual' not only sexualizes women but also criminalizes men. [3] As discussed in a Richmond School of Law faculty publication, “the consequences of girls' sexualization are both deep and broad. For girls, sexualization can negatively impact cognitive and physical function, mental and physical health, sexuality, and their attitudes and beliefs about gender and sexual roles. Sexualization of girls may also hinder the ability of boys and men to interact intellectually with girls and women, which is necessary for males to develop intimacy with female partners.”[4]

Other workout centers in the surrounding community of Greeley, Colorado were open to speaking about their dress codes. Neighboring community college, Aimes, has a similar policy at their student gym which is put in place because of complaints that students were uncomfortable working out among other students who were just wearing sports bras. Meanwhile, Aspire Gym allows sports bras but encourages disinfecting equipment to prevent against ringworm. Vasa Fitness and Noco Fitness both allow wearing sports bras during workouts as well. In a real-world scenario, gym attendees would be subject to working out alongside those who dress in sports bras. So why then do universities and colleges prevent these garments to be worn alone? University is meant to further prepare and expand upon previously learned real-world skills in order to enter the workforce and social scenarios following graduation. UNCO’s vision statement states that they strive“to be a leading student-centered university that promotes effective teaching, lifelong learning, the advancement of knowledge, research, and a commitment to service. Graduates are educated in the Liberal Arts and professionally prepared to live and contribute effectively in a rapidly changing, technologically advanced society.”[5] As mentioned, society is rapidly advancing and those advancements are toward gender equality.

Moving Forward

After analyzing the policy discussed, I find it to be necessary that UNCO staff revisit the rec center dress code. Not only is the policy unsubstantiated, but it also does not prepare students for life after college. Encouraging students to use disinfectant is the solution to preventing the spread of ringworm disease, not requiring students to dress in a certain fashion. Creating a space where students can be respected no matter what they wear is important, and encourages students to acknowledge and accept diversity. Everyone's body is different and every person is comfortable wearing different types of clothes and women shouldn't be required to wear tops over sports bras when working out at the UNCO rec center. Students should be able to adapt to situations and grow out of their insecurity toward understanding.

[1] "Spaces & Rules." Campus Recreation. Accessed October 29, 2018. https://www.unco.edu/campus-recreation/facility/spaces-rules.aspx.
[2] Kelsch, Noel. "Preventing Ringworm." Preventing Ringworm. November 2009. Accessed October 2018. Patel, Gopal A., and Robert A. Schwartz. "Tinea Capitis: Still an Unsolved Problem?" EBSCO. Accessed October 29, 2018. https://unco.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.unco.idm.oclc.org/docview/225007189?accountid.
[3] Alyssa Pavlakis, and Rachel Roegman. "How Dress Codes Criminalize Males and Sexualize Females of Color  ." Kappanonline.org. September 29, 2018. Accessed October 29, 2018. http://www.kappanonline.org/pavlakis-roegman-dress-codes-gender-race-discrimination/.
[4] Harbach, Meredith J. "Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes." Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes. 2016. https://scholarship.richmond.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=2275&context=law-faculty-publications.
[5] "Our Mission - Office of the President at UNC." Office of the President. Accessed October 29, 2018. https://www.unco.edu/president/university-mission.aspx.

Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in each article is the opinion of its author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the PUGS editors, Gender Studies program, or UNC. Therefore, PUGS e-zine carries no responsibility for the opinion expressed thereon.