The Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE) hosted recreational fitness classes for students of color on February 6 and Thursday.
The fitness classes, held at the Recreation and Wellness Center (RecWell), provided access to the gym for students of color to help them be mindful of their physical health. MCAE Director Fernando Rodriguez said he wanted students to see the resources RecWell offers, such as personal dietitians and cardio and weightlifting rooms.
“It’s hard for students who are first-generation students of color and already feel isolated to go to the big recreation center and then ask for help,” Rodriguez said.
While attending the University of Minnesota, he said his fitness group gave him a sense of community that he didn’t get from his classes and professors, so he wanted to provide a similar community with other students.
“I wanted to be very mindful about creating opportunities for the students we serve to connect with the RecWell and their group fitness program,” Rodriguez said.
Terra Brister, deputy assistant director of holistic student support, said the classes are an important way for students of color to take up space in places traditionally known for being predominantly white, such as the gym.
“I hope by offering these classes that students of color will feel more comfortable exploring different forms of wellness and exercise,” Brister said.
RecWell’s mission is to provide spaces where students feel at home, according to an email statement from RecWell to the Minnesota Daily.
“RecWell is proud to be able to accommodate inclusive co-curricular programs such as the MCAE LLP gym classes,” the statement said.
Brister said the classes provide a level of comfort where students can have a good time and train together.
“There’s a degree of comfort and understanding that we don’t have to excel, we can be dumb and learn at the same time,” Brister said.
However, Rodriguez said he also wants to normalize the discomfort that can come with attending a group fitness class at RecWell. Because gyms are usually predominantly white, some students of color fear judgment as they recognize that these spaces are for them too.
“Everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, this is ours,'” Rodriguez said. “Our goal is to expose students to that discomfort, so that they can give meaning to that discomfort themselves.”
MCAE hosted group fitness classes in 2020, but they were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Rodriguez. With sufficient resources and staff available to run these classes, Rodriguez said MCAE could 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 from a representational aspect and to be comfortable and seen in the community.”
Rodriguez said he hopes MCAE can provide more group fitness opportunities in the future.
Rodriguez said he also hopes by offering group fitness classes for students of color, students will see themselves represented in group fitness and feel more comfortable and experienced participating in and teaching classes in the future.
Rodriguez was a group fitness instructor at RecWell when he was a graduate student at the university, and he said there were only a handful of instructors of color at the time.
“From the time I was a group fitness instructor, nothing has changed about who attends these classes,” Rodriguez said. “I want our communities to claim space in these group fitness classes and workouts and overcome some of the barriers it takes to get there.”