By Ellie Bowen
The newly launched women-focused athletic training sessions offered by Arrillaga Outdoor Education Recreation Center (AOERC) have sparked a debate over whether they discriminate on the basis of gender.
After reading about the “women’s-only” sessions in The Daily last week, Adam Behrendt ’19 filed a Title IX complaint to the U.S. Department of Education and a gender discrimination complaint to California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which enforces the Unruh Act prohibiting arbitrary discrimination on the basis of gender. Behrendt also filed an Act of Intolerance report through Stanford’s Student Affairs office.
Following Behrendt’s reports, Stanford added weight-lifting sessions focused on men’s exercise, offering the same number of hours per week as the women’s sessions and in the same studio.
Behrendt said he does not plan to rescind the complaints in the aftermath of Stanford’s policy change.
“Am I hurt from women’s-only anything? Probably not,” Behrendt said. “Does it sort of bother me that it sort of undermines the gender equity push? Yeah.”
In a written statement to The Daily following the release of the initial article, University spokesperson E.J. Miranda said that the women’s-focused hours were originally instituted as a response to a survey conducted by Stanford Recreation, through which many women and trans women reported that they were not comfortable lifting weights in Stanford’s athletic facilities. According to the survey, this discomfort stemmed from a lack of privacy, pressure to hurry and religious reasons, among other factors.
While Stanford Recreation did not previously receive feedback that men were not comfortable lifting weights in the facilities, they decided to add the men’s-focused sessions following the complaints, according to Miranda.
The women’s training hours began Jan. 29 and are held twice a week in a studio that is usually reserved for personal training and has never had open fitness hours. Miranda clarified that no equipment in the studio was taken from any other Stanford athletic or recreation facility.
“All community members may drop in any time the studio is open (regardless of gender focus),” Miranda wrote in his email statement. “No one is being banned because of gender.”
After reading about the women’s-focused training hours in The Daily last week, Behrendt contacted Jennifer Sexton, director of fitness and wellness programs and one of the creators of the women’s hours, to voice his concern that the hours perpetuate gender stereotypes.
In an email response to Behrendt, Sexton clarified that the original intention for the women-focused training hours was to create a place where all women, including trans women, felt comfortable, and were not specifically created for beginning lifters as many of the women participants are advanced.
Behrendt argued that the exclusion of men from the training hours was discriminatory, pointing out that the reasons women mentioned in the survey – religion, privacy and pressure – did not solely apply to women.
“I think you are still missing the point,” Behrendt wrote in response to Sexton. “Excluding men from a gym in order to make women more comfortable … potentially violates state and federal law.”
Behrendt also explained that he was interested in Stanford’s approach to anti-discrimination law.
“I’m not concerned with the impact of two hours or four hours a week at a gym,” Behrendt said. “I’m concerned with understanding how the University applies anti-discrimination laws to itself, and whether they’ll be honest about that.”
Behrendt then filed the Title IX and Unruh complaints and submitted the Act of Intolerance report.
“I’ve had a lot of problems with the University in a pseudo-legal sense, and so if there’s an opportunity I try to understand what they do and why,” Behrendt said. “I think it’s a bit hypocritical for the University to say, ‘Hey, we don’t discriminate on the basis of gender,’ and then to say, ‘Oh well, except for when we do.’ That’s not consistent.”
Behrendt also consulted Mark Perry, a professor of finance and business economics at the University of Michigan-Flint. Perry wrote in his blog “Carpe Diem,” run through the American Enterprise Institute, that “The new women’s only policy that discriminates against men appears to violate Stanford’s own policy of nondiscrimination.”
Stanford’s non-discrimination policy prohibits, among other things, discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Two years ago, Perry brought attention to a similar issue at Michigan State University (MSU), where there was a women’s-only study lounge. After hearing about the lounge, he submitted multiple discrimination complaints to MSU and wrote a blog post about the situation. The lounge was eventually shut down.
Associate Dean of Students Dr. Alejandro Martinez, who heads the Act of Intolerance Protocol, referred Behrendt’s Act of Intolerance complaint to the Title IX Office. As of Monday evening, Martinez did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.
Behrendt also reached out to Lauren Schoenthaler, senior associate vice provost for institutional equity and access, regarding the issue.
“Reinforcing the ‘need’ for gender segregation only undermines advances in participation, pay and other areas of gender-inequity,” Behrendt wrote in an email to Schoenthaler.
However, Miranda stated that the space is open during its drop-in hours to all community members, regardless of gender focus.
“It is unfortunate that in an effort to ensure the well-being of all community members in response to raised concerns, an initial solution to ensure that women and members of the transgender community felt comfortable working out generated a concern of exclusion,” Miranda wrote.