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Onward Debate: Are Universal Campus Recreation Memberships Worth It?

You’re not imagining it — the lines are arguably longer than usual at the on-campus gyms. The reason for it? Penn State’s Student Fee Board approved a Campus Recreation fee increase to eliminate the need for students to buy individual gym memberships.

The fee narrowly passed with a 7-5 vote, but nonetheless every Penn State student now has access to the recreational facilities on campus. Though many universities across the country implemented similar policies long ago, it’s a first for Penn State, and students are still adjusting to the changes.

Some students are stoked about it, but others argue universal gym memberships are unnecessary. Our staff members weighed in on the pros and cons of the included gym membership and how it might affect gym attendance moving forward.

Derek Bannister – Yes, Penn State should have universal gym memberships.

Including a gym membership for all Penn State students should be the norm by now. Penn State has been pretty much behind the times, as most colleges include a gym membership for all their students.

The basic premise behind my argument is on-campus gym memberships should not be exclusive in any way – especially if there’s any effort to promote student wellness.

Going to the gym during the formative years of college (when we are on our own for the first time) can set the tone for the habits throughout the rest of someone’s life. Just ask the string bean you knew in high school who now posts pictures of his monstrous biceps every day. Maybe that’s an extreme example, but having access to a gym on campus can help promote healthy lifestyle choices that positively affect the student population.

The health benefits associated with regular exercise are obviously well-documented, but the mental health benefits of exercise are especially important on college campuses. Regular exercise is a key contributor to improved sleep, daily energy, and a better mood.

Deep down, I also believe hoping other people won’t show up to the gym is somewhat selfish. If people want to get into the gym, put in some work, and improve themselves, I don’t see a problem with it.

I will admit there are some problems gym-goers face as a result of this expanded gym membership policy. The gyms may be more crowded, for example, but anyone who has ever tried to go to the gym from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. would know this is already the case. The university could more effectively deal with this by adding a gym or upgrading the White Building facilities – at this point, the problem is beyond who has a membership and who doesn’t.

The other problem with this new system is that the per-semester campus recreation fee is $57 per student, which is only $3 less than the price of a gym membership. The membership price was bound to increase, as students would’ve had to start paying for access to tracks or basketball courts that were previously free to anyone (even those without a gym membership) but it still hurts. Despite this high fee, I still believe this policy is a step in the right direction.

Oyoma Asinor – No, Penn State should not have universal gym memberships.

As someone who spends quite a bit of time at the gym every week, and does not need an “included” membership to do so, I cannot agree with Penn State’s decision to make the training facilities available to everyone on campus.

At its core, I don’t think making every student pay for a service they may or may not use is appropriate. This influx of new gym-goers is not only a detriment to the training experience I love as a hardcore attendee, but is also bad for those who don’t go regularly. For me, the sport of bodybuilding is something that I am truly passionate about. Every second, I need to be aware of what I eat, when I eat, how I train in the gym, and more.

There is no doubt that overcrowding at peak times was a problem during previous years, but that problem is now going to multiply this coming year. Being able to put my headphones on and work on improving myself for at least two hours every day is something that I find almost spiritual and truly helps me relieve stress from classes or the rest of the outside world.

When I have an idea of what exercises I need to do in order to accomplish my goals, it helps not having to wade through 50 people to get to the rack of dumbbells. Training sessions that usually took an hour have started taking even more time. My training sessions become less efficient, as I’m often stuck waiting for equipment to become available.

The biggest problem this new included membership presents is that multiple groups of people can come into the gym together, taking up equipment that people want to use. It is not uncommon to see a group of five or six guys hogging a squat rack to do curls, all while not doing much exercise at all.

Most of these big groups are using our gyms as gathering places to be social and scroll through Instagram so they can boast about having gotten their workout in that day. In addition, these peak times of activity are becoming more random, whereas before this change, you could work around the busiest hours of attendance. Now, people are waiting even longer to get into the facilities which is then compounded by having to wait even more time for the equipment they would like to use.

This doesn’t just hurt the average gym rat like me, it can actively discourage new attendees to start coming regularly as well. How would you feel if your thirty-minute circuit workout suddenly started to take an hour or more to complete due to overcrowding? Would you want to come back to a Penn State fitness facility again? I know that for many, seeing a line that goes out the front door to even enter the gym is enough to stop them from going again. Time is essential for college students, and when you have an entire day planned out from beginning to end, waiting in line to exercise can derail those plans.

I do agree that opening the Penn State fitness facilities to all students is the morally right thing to do, as many other universities have done this way before us. In practice, however, this new system actively diminishes the quality of gym experience that I used to love so much. I would not be surprised if private, off-campus gyms became more popular because of this maneuver.

Only time will tell if this was the right move or not, and while it is still too early to make a definitive decision about it, I do believe this trend of overcrowded gyms will continue throughout the school year.

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