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New Lift Up! fitness program has kick-off; aims to empower underrepresented students

Eleanor Hu

Staff Writer

Poster that was sent out for the kick off event

This past Saturday, April 2, “Lift Up!,” a new program by the Gender Resource and Advocacy Center and Campus Recreation (GRAC), was kicked off with a talk about fitness misconceptions and a class on proper weight-lifting techniques led by local fitness instructor Cara Turnquist. Lift Up! is designed to empower marginalized students across a spectrum of gender and body type in the hopes of eventually bringing a more inclusive environment to Willamette.

According to Andrea Doyle Hugmeyer, who is the Director of the Gender Resource Advocacy Center (GRAC) and Assistant Dean of Community Care & Inclusion, “Lift Up was inspired by Chris [Olivia]’s desire to create an affirming and empowering space for physical fitness in Sparks Fitness Center, knowing that there are many people who don’t necessarily have a positive relationship with their body or don’t necessarily feel comfortable or safe with movement in that space because it’s not as inclusive as it could be.”

Chris Olivia (‘24), who is Campus Recreation’s Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Coordinator and the GRAC’s LGBTQ+ Resources Coordinator, said that he created the program in partnership with Hugmeyer and Director of Campus Recreation Tony Stafford because he has experienced many of his fellow students mentioning that they don’t feel comfortable using the Sparks facilities—even those that spend time there as employees. He said, “From a student point of view, the fitness center is there for all students. It’s part of ‘Oh, being a Willamette student we have all these resources,’ but…the stigma with the fitness community makes people hesitant to use the resources that we have.”

The preparation for the program was started in December with student surveys of what a safe space to exercise in might look like, as well as ideal times for this space to be open. From there, Olivia, Hugmeyer and Stafford worked to coordinate times that Sparks could be open specifically for students who do not typically feel comfortable during the gym’s normal hours. Sparks staff also received WU SafeZone training in preparation for the event.

Turnquist, who is the owner of PUSH Fitness in Salem, was invited to the kick-off by Hugmeyer, who said, “She specializes in body positivity, so that was something that…align[s] with the work we do here at the GRAC. Having known her for the last five years and [seeing] how she has been very visible about anti-racist practicies in her fitness business and also the ways that she has tried to gain more resources on how she can support trans and gender non-conforming folks, I knew that she would be a good fit for this type of program.”

During the kick-off, Turnquist gave a presentation that detailed how the fitness industry is designed to perpetuate bias, stereotypes and racism, as well as uphold a hierarchy. She described how fatphobia has a historical basis in racism and remains tied to discrimination today, and also explained that there is no true causation between fat and health risks, just correlation that can be attributed to the stressers tied to fatphobia, such as a lack of equality in healthcare. To end her presentation, Turnquist spoke about how one can be an advocate for equality in the fitness industry, and discussed creating community by finding and making places where one feels they belong. She also provided resources for further exploration.

The second part of the Lift Up! kick-off was a class on weight lifting that was also led by Turnquist and attended by around 12 students, who learned how to do skills like deadlifting and squatting. Throughout the presentation and the class, the rest of the Sparks facilities were available for all underrepresented students to use. The entire gym was decorated with positive affirmations, and pride flags were hung in various locations.

Overall the program was a big success, with those who attended saying they would like to have more classes and time to exercise in the future. One student expressed her happiness afterwards, saying to Hugmeyer, “I wish Sparks looked like this all of the time.” Hugmeyer added, “She was just so grateful—she said, ‘Thank you so much for doing this…I can’t wait to do it again.’”

Hugmeyer said there are plans for more designated times for marginalized students to use Sparks this year, though she noted, “Because this [program] started spring term, it wasn’t budgeted into the broader Campus Rec budget, so…the GRAC is funding the wages for the Sparks staff to be present.” She added that, “The GRAC doesn’t necessarily have a strong and healthy budget right now, [but] we are making it happen.” She expressed hope that Campus Rec will be able to fund the program as we transition into the 2022-23 school year. In addition, while scheduling with Turnquist is difficult, the organizers hope to have her return to lead some more classes both this year and next.

Eventually, according to Olivia, “The long term plan would be that we don’t necessarily have to have any designated time anymore…We build this culture of ‘Oh, Willamette’s Sparks Fitness Center is actually very inclusive’ and people can be safe in there going to regular open hours.”

He described the work that would need to be done in order to create this safe space within open hours, stating that, “It has a lot to do with dismantling these types of stigmas in Campus Recreation and the Fitness Center, which is more of work for Campus Recreation, not just the GRAC.” He then called on staff and students who occupy that space to seek out knowledge on their own privilege and how they can work to make fitness inclusive for everyone. Hugmeyer added that the problem is not limited to Willamette’s recreational facilities, but a universal problem with society’s idea of fitness.

For now however, the Lift Up! hours will continue to be in place to empower students across a wide spectrum of identities who may not otherwise feel comfortable using Spark’s facilities. Olivia emphasized that he does not want anyone to be deterred by the label of ‘underrepresented student,’ adding that there is confusion because “[Students think] ‘I do have a lot privilege, I’m not necessarily underrepresented as a student at Willamette in general,’ but specifically in the fitness community [underrepresented] can be different things.”

Olivia said that students should come to future Lift Up! programming if they have experienced discomfort during regular hours at Sparks, and expressed hope that eventually fitness at Willamette can be a space for all students, regardless of their gender, race, body type or any other factors.

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1 Comment

Inez Nieves
Inez Nieves
Apr 09, 2022


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