Address sexual harassment in gyms

Hubert Ning

Editor’s Note: This column first appeared in the April 23 issue of The Daily Texan.

Trigger warning: This column contains mention of sensitive subjects including sexual harassment.

Town halls, petitions, sit-ins — we’ve seen it all. In the wake of some of the worst sexual misconduct cases at UT, the University is still not as safe as it could be. And some of that danger lies within our gyms.

UT gyms need to create a system that facilitates reporting sexual harassment and take a larger role in condemning and preventing sexual harassment.

Willa Scanlon, human development and family sciences sophomore, said she has felt unsafe at the gym, especially when men asked her for her number and said she “looked good in a sports bra.”

“To me, this was sexual harassment, even if vague,” Scanlon said. “You shouldn’t be commenting on what women are wearing. You shouldn’t be asking for their phone numbers.” 

Scanlon reported these issues to the gym employees, but their response was entirely unacceptable.

“(The gyms) said that it was my responsibility to further pursue these issues and that it was hard for them to monitor the gyms the whole time,” Scanlon said. “It’s frustrating, because I did (report), but nothing came of it. I expected a more proactive response. Instead they responded as if I was unnecessarily dramatic.”

There isn’t an adequate system currently in place to report sexual harassment at UT gyms. On the UT RecSports website, there is no mention of sexual harassment prevention nor a place to report it. There isn’t even an explanation of how to report harassment through other channels.

UT RecSports declined to provide a comment and referred inquiries to the Office of the President. 

“We take sexual harassment allegations very seriously and address issues that have been reported,” Eliska Padilla, issues and communications manager for University Communications, said in an email. “Anyone who experienced or witnessed any form of sexual misconduct by a student, faculty, staff, university affiliate or visitor is encouraged to call or report the incident (to Title IX).”

UT has taken steps to reduce the culture of sexual harassment at our campus. But that responsibility shouldn’t rest entirely on the shoulders of the Title IX Office, especially not at the gyms. 

The gyms need to create a system that facilitates reporting sexual harassment. At the very least, they need to make the Title IX reporting form available on their website to make reporting easy and efficient. 

More importantly, the gyms need to take a more active role in condemning and preventing sexual harassment at their facilities. Shockingly, even in their official guidelines there is no mention of sexual harassment. 

“The closest they get is in their conduct section, which mentions, but doesn’t define, ‘unacceptable or irresponsible behavior,’” said Preethi Kannan, public health senior and former diversity and inclusion chair for the Natural Sciences Council. “The ambiguity makes it harder for participants to file complaints because harassment in a gym setting isn’t always overt.”

For the last two years, the Natural Sciences Council has been working on legislation aimed at updating the UT RecSports’ guidelines and having them place conduct-expectation posters around the gym areas. 

While this is an excellent idea, it’s disappointing that these changes have to be led and brought up by the students. The UT gyms shouldn’t need to enact all these changes because of pressure — they should do it because it’s the right thing to do. 

If you experienced or witnessed harassment, you can report the incident to Title IX at [email protected], by calling 512-471-041 or by filling out an online report form.

Ning is an electrical engineering and history senior from Katy, Texas