Photo by Matthew Claybrook
Then-sophomore Isabella Rizzo was asked to leave the Bell Center for wearing an athletic crop top in early Fall 2018 that didn’t comply with dress code. Since then, she has started a petition against of the dress code policy at the Bell Center’s workout facility.
The current dress code policy at the Bell Center general-use workout facility requires students to cover their midriff while working out. According to Seth Asbury, associate director of athletics for facilities and event management, the policy is in place to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is a bacterial infection caused by a type of staph bacteria that has built up antibiotic resistance. Staph bacteria are usually found on the skin or in the nose of most people and are generally harmless unless they enter the body through an exposed wound.
After contacting other universities’ gyms, public gyms and biology professors on campus, Rizzo found out that not only is this policy not a requirement in most gyms but that the reasoning for the policy is scientifically unfounded. Rizzo decided to start an online petition on Change.org to revise this policy a week ago and has since gained over 600 signatures.
“The petition itself is because I figured it’s a good way to get people to be aware of the issue and start a conversation about it and maybe present it to the Student Government Association. There’s a few people who can make the decision to change it, so if we’re able to show that a lot of people agree with changing it, the school might be more inclined to listen,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo believes that the petition could lead to a change in the dress code policy and solve an issue that several students have been having when going to the workout facility.
“If there is something wrong — and it wasn’t just me, if other people were having problems — then it wasn’t just a personal issue of mine. I decided to be the voice of other people, as well as seeing something wrong and just fixing it. If it isn’t a big deal, then it isn’t a big deal to change it, so I might as well campaign it,” Rizzo said.
Last year, Asbury met with the university risk manager, head athletic trainer and university insurance risk accessor to discuss fitness center policies, and he concluded that Trinity’s current policies do follow best practices to help prevent injury and illness.
“I’m glad students are passionate about university polices and other issues. I hope students will use their positive energy to engage in civil positive influence on larger more important life changing initiatives,” Asbury said.
Michele Johnson, associate professor of biology, believes that the current policy will not prevent the spread of MRSA.
“While MRSA and other bacterial diseases can spread in gyms, cotton t-shirts would provide no protection from these bacteria. If the goal is preventing the spread of disease, a policy that requires wiping down gym equipment after each use would be far more effective than a wardrobe-based policy, unless biohazard suits were required. The policy appears to instead be a modesty policy, as the skin on an athlete’s hands, forearms, legs and face — which are freely exposed to gym equipment under the current policy — are no less susceptible to bacterial disease than the skin on their midriffs,” Johnson said.
After Rizzo came out with her original story, she decided to find out who else was being kicked out of the gym or told to cover up.
“People reached out to me and told their stories of being kicked out of the gym. This was within the first month of the new gym opening, and there were five women who had been kicked out. I asked for anyone — male or female — if they had been kicked out or asked to cover up, and the only responses I got were from women. That could indicate a bias in regulation. If you have the policy and are going to keep it, at least make it fair,” Rizzo said.
Asbury believes the policy is important to the health and safety of students.
“I’m disappointed to hear some users feel policies are inconsistently implemented. We ask our student staff to educate and enforce policies respectfully to all users. We will continue to train our staff on their customer service and communication skills. We try to follow the core values of the university – respect for self; respect for others; respect for community; respect for property; and personal responsibility,” Asbury wrote in an email.