Group fitness classes aim to break down stigmas – The Minnesota Daily

As part of a collaboration between MCAE and RecWell, two group fitness classes were offered this semester to promote fitness among students of color.

David Monterroso

Tera Brister, interim assistant director of holistic student support, said the classes allow students of color to take up space in places historically known to be predominantly white, such as the gym.

The Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE) hosted fitness classes on February 6 and Thursday for students of color.

Fitness classes held at the Recreation and Wellness Center (RecWell) gave students of color access to a gym to help them be mindful of their physical health. MCAE Principal Fernando Rodriguez said he wants students to see the resources RecWell offers, such as personal nutritionists and cardio and weight-lifting rooms.

“It’s hard for first-generation students of color who already feel isolated to go to the big rec center and then 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 he didn’t have from his classes and professors, so he wanted to provide a similar community with other students.

“I wanted to be really intentional about creating opportunities for the students we serve to connect with RecWell and their group fitness program,” Rodriguez said.

Tera 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, such as the gym.

“My hope is that by offering these classes, students of color will feel more comfortable exploring different forms of wellness and exercise,” Brister said.

RecWell’s mission is to provide places for students to feel like they belong, according to an emailed statement from RecWell to the Minnesota Daily.

“RecWell is proud 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 a good time and exercise together.

“There’s a comfort level and understanding that we don’t have to excel, we can be silly and learn at the same time,” Brister said.

However, Rodriguez said she also wants to normalize the discomfort that can come from attending a group fitness class at RecWell. Because gym spaces tend to be predominantly white, some students of color fear judgment for admitting these spaces are for them too.

“Everybody feels like, ‘yeah, we own this,'” Rodriguez said. “Our goal is to expose students to that discomfort so that they can make sense of that 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 learn about RecWell and group fitness.

“It takes a lot to get students to attend the gym,” Rodriguez said. “It’s scary for a lot of reasons, and even more so from a performance standpoint and being comfortable and noticed in the community.”

Rodriguez said she hopes MCAE is able to provide more group fitness opportunities in the future.

Rodriguez said she also hopes that by offering group fitness classes for students of color, students will see themselves represented in group fitness and feel more comfortable and experienced participating and teaching classes in the future.

Rodriguez was a group fitness instructor at RecWell when she was a graduate student at the university, and said at the time there were only a handful of instructors of color.

“Nothing has changed from when I was a group fitness instructor to now in terms of who takes these classes,” Rodriguez said. “I want to see our communities claim a spot in these group fitness classes and train and overcome some of the barriers it takes to get there.”

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