March 5, 2008 in Nation/World

Harvard testing gym hours set aside for women only

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review
 

BOSTON – In a test of Harvard’s famed open-mindedness, the university has banned men from one of its gyms for a few hours a week to accommodate Muslim women who say it offends their sense of modesty to exercise in front of the opposite sex.

The policy is already unpopular with many on campus, including some women who consider it sexist.

The trial policy went into effect Feb. 4, about a month after a group of six Muslim women, with the support of the Harvard College Women’s Center, asked the university for the special hours, spokesman Robert Mitchell said.

“We get special requests from religious groups all the time and we try to honor them whenever possible,” he said, noting that the school has designated spaces for Muslim and Hindu students to pray.

No men are allowed in the gym between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Mondays, and between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The special hours allow the Muslim women, who adhere to traditional dress codes by covering their hair and most of their skin while in public, to dress more appropriately for exercising.

The policy only applies to one gym, a facility mainly used for intramurals. Because of its location at the edge of campus, it is the university’s least used gym, Mitchell said.

The policy will be reviewed at the end of the semester.


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