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  • Brooke Austin, Staff Writer

Opinion: Why Sparks should be a student-only gym

Updated: Jan 31

Graphic by Carolyn Vazquez.

When Sparks Fitness Center reopened after the pandemic, there was a proposed fee for faculty to utilize the gym, although many staff members wanted to work out at Sparks for free. As a result, a conflict developed, even prompting some Willamette faculty to protest at President Thorsett’s office, as reported in this sports article. This issue asks the question as to whether or not WU faculty and staff should be able to utilize the Sparks gym, alongside students, for free. A common answer among students? No. I spoke with roughly fifteen students on campus to help form my opinion, and all of them expressed that not only do they feel as though faculty shouldn’t be able to use the Sparks gym for free, but that faculty shouldn’t use the Sparks gym at all.

Sparks gym is not free to anyone, not even students who pay roughly $60,000 per year to attend Willamette University. This fee includes the allowed usage of all WU resources, including Sparks gym. In fact, tuition went up by about $3,000 last year, meaning that many students feel entitled to squeeze all the juice out of Willamette’s resources. It is important to acknowledge that although Willamette values and appreciates its faculty, the gym is geared toward students, hence why there are only student workers at Sparks and why there are normally only students, undergraduate or graduate, working out in Sparks.

Students would benefit a lot from Sparks being a student-only facility. The on-campus gym is supposed to be a safe place for young adults to get exercise. Willamette has even gone as far as to create dedicated inclusive times called Lift Up hours at the gym to ensure every student gets to use Sparks comfortably. Many students I talked to told me they would be uncomfortable with the idea of working out in the same space as their professors. “There are better options than Sparks that still preserve a student-faculty boundary,” Rya Hirsch (‘27) said. 

Some students told me that if they knew there was a chance of seeing their professors at the gym, they wouldn’t go. Often those who attend Sparks wear workout attire such as sports bras, Spandex, cut-off tank tops and even swimsuits for students who swim during the (incredibly sporadic and inconvenient) pool hours. Though this kind of clothing is appropriate for the gym and around peers, it’s not exactly the preferred attire to wear to be appropriate around professors, and the idea of doing so makes students understandably uncomfortable.

Sparks being a student-only facility also supports students by providing a space where they can create a healthy disconnect between home life and school life. College can be a strange experience to navigate; for the first time, your friends, hobbies, school and “home” are all within a 10-minute walk from each other. Having Sparks be a student-only facility would help students further create that healthy separation of home and school that can be tricky to navigate if students are living in the dorms.

The faculty at Willamette are special. Every professor is passionate about creating positive learning experiences for their students. They develop connections with their classes in order to create safe and engaging environments. That level of connection is appreciated in a classroom, but at its core Sparks is for people who attend Willamette University. There should be a divide, as faculty members work at Willamette, but they do not attend it.

Sparks being a student-only gym creates a safe space for students to get exercise, as well as emphasizes a healthy barrier between home and school. Sparks should be for students that attend Willamette, undergraduate or graduate; faculty work at Willamette and should thus treat it like a work environment. With these expectations, students are able to utilize Sparks in the most comfortable environment possible. 

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to clarify how the writer gauged other student opinions. The headline was updated to reflect current staff and faculty access.

435 views2 comments


Feb 21

This is a very bad idea. Does the author realize how much faculty & staff salaries at WU have lagged inflation over the last 4 years? Now you want to take away one of the few perks available to faculty & staff while offering no additional compensation? If professors can't use Sparks, don't complain when they are not around campus as much because they have to leave campus to get in a workout.


Jan 31

I would not want my professor be able to work out right next to me. It would be like the president leg lifting right next to the history professor. Is it for students or anyone that wants to work out, not a plant fitness. I think it is unfair to make them do it with the facility. Sharing the limited time for work outs is not fair.

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