The Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE) offered recreational fitness classes on Feb. 6 and Thursday for black students.
Exercise classes, held at the Center for Recreation and Wellness (RecWell), provided black students with access to the gym to help them take care of their physical health. MCAE director Fernando Rodriguez said he wanted students to see the features RecWell offers, such as personal nutritionists and rooms for cardio and weight lifting.
“It’s hard for first-generation black students who already feel isolated to go to the big rec center and ask for help,” Rodriguez said.
When he was studying at the University of Minnesota, he said his fitness group gave him a sense of community that his classes and teachers lacked, so he wanted to provide a similar community with other students.
“I wanted to be really intentional in creating opportunities for the students we serve to connect with RecWell and the group fitness program,” said Rodriguez.
Terra Brister, interim assistant director of holistic student support, said the classes are an important way for students of color to take up space in places historically known to be predominantly white, like the gym.
“I hope that by offering these classes, Black students will feel more comfortable exploring different forms of wellness and working out,” said Brister.
RecWell’s mission is to provide spaces for students to feel they belong, according to an emailed statement from RecWell to the Minnesota Daily.
“RecWell is proud to be able to accommodate inclusive co-curricular programs such as MCAE LLP’s fitness classes,” the statement said.
Brister said the classes provide a comfort level where students can have fun and exercise together.
“There’s a level of comfort and understanding that we don’t have to stand out, we can be silly and learn at the same time,” said Brister.
However, Rodriguez said he also wants to normalize the discomfort that can come with taking a group fitness class at RecWell. Because fitness spaces are typically predominantly white, some students of color fear judgment for recognizing that these spaces are for them too.
“Everybody thinks ‘yeah, we own it,’” Rodriguez said. “Our goal is to expose students to this discomfort so that they can make sense of this discomfort for themselves.”
MCAE hosted group fitness classes in 2020, but they were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Rodriguez. Now, with enough resources and staff available to run these classes, Rodriguez said MCAE was able to host an open house in the fall for all students to become familiar with RecWell and group fitness.
“It takes a lot to get students into the gym,” Rodriguez said. “It’s scary for a lot of reasons, and even more so for the representation aspect and being comfortable and seen in the community.”
Rodriguez said he hopes MCAE will be able to offer more group fitness opportunities in the future.
Rodriguez said he also hopes that by offering group gymnastics classes to black students, students will see themselves represented in group gymnastics and feel more comfortable and knowledgeable about participating and teaching classes in the future.
Rodriguez was a group fitness instructor at RecWell when he was a graduate student at the University and said there were only a handful of instructors of color at the time.
“Nothing has changed since I was a group fitness instructor until now in terms of who attends these classes,” said Rodriguez. “I want to see our communities claiming space in these group fitness classes, working through and overcoming some of the barriers needed to get there.”