Lydia Mok went to the Student Recreation and Wellness Center to deadlift. She was wearing a sports bra and shorts like she always does. That’s when she was approached by a male staff member who asked her to change.
“A male member of staff told me to put a shirt on,” Mok said. “It made me feel very uncomfortable that he was trying to control what I was wearing in the gym, a space that was my comfort zone, and I didn’t want any other girls to be made to feel the same way.”
Mok, a master’s sport and exercise psychology major and SWRC employee, started a change.org petition challenging the SWRC’s policy.
Titled “CSULB: Allow womxn to wear sports bras without tops at the SRWC,” the petition has reached about half of its goal of 100 in three days.
“On the petition page I mention how in a time where there is plentiful evidence that what a woman wears does not affect the occurrence of sexual harassment, we would like to think that CSULB, a forward-thinking university, would stand against the policing of women’s bodies,” Mok said.
The policy on the SRWC’s page states that “appropriate athletic attire must be worn at all times. Inappropriate clothing includes jeans, khakis, modified clothing, clothing which exposes the midriff and sandals.”
Mok argued that sports bras and anything anyone is comfortable wearing is appropriate clothing.
“Not everyone feels comfortable enough to wear a sports bra without an additional top in the gym, but for those who have gone through their own personal journeys to be confident enough to do so, should be able to have the choice to do just that,” Mok said. “For some, an additional top can feel uncomfortable and restricting due to sweating and the body becoming too warm.”
Matthew Sauceda, administrative and facility coordinator at the SRWC, said the policy is in place for a good reason.
“Our current policy is enforced amongst all members as the SRWC does not permit modified clothing or clothing which exposes the midriff,” Sauceda said. “This is to limit the amount of skin contact on the equipment, and is in place for health and safety reasons.”
In the petition, Mok stated that “when asking management as to why this rule was in place they stated it was because of too much visible skin showing. Not hygiene, but because skin was showing.”
Maureen McRae, associate director at the SRWC, said the policy isn’t meant to single women out, and it applies to both men and women.
“If a male were to have an exposed midriff, we’d ask him to change too,” McRae said. “Any modified clothing, like those open side shirts.”
As an employee, Mok said she recognizes the need for a dress code but maintains that a sports bra on its own is appropriate attire.
“The SRWC trying to enforce appropriate gym attire, like any other gym, is definitely needed and fair,” Mok said. “However, wearing a sports bra without a top, which is also considered appropriate gym attire, (i.e. safe) should be an option.”
She said the policy disproportionately affects womxn, a term she uses in her petition to include all women and non-binary people.
“The SRWC dress code, although unintentional, is reinforcing the gender biases that exist on a larger scale,” Mok said.
McRae said the staff is open to conversations about changing the policy.
“We’re doing our part to keep our facility clean while being fair to everyone,” McRae said. “But we’re always open to listen to what students on campus want.”
Mok said she hopes that others will be inspired by her challenge.
“Ultimately it’s about freedom of choice, freedom to choose and for the bodies of womxn to stop being policed, especially in the sport and fitness world where it unfortunately happens a lot,” Mok said in an email. “We are not the first group of students to speak up on this issue and it is refreshing to see that others are also doing the same.”