On August 1, it was brought to our attention that a UVIC student was publicly shamed in front of other gym goers and asked to change at Carsa over a pair of shorts that the staff deemed too short and in violation of their new dress code. Carsa has an incredibly strict dress code that is often enforced by staff members at their discretion. In this particular case, the student Luiza was wearing a pair of shorts pictured below, on what was one of the hottest days of the year in Victoria. She was publicly humiliated and asked to cover up due to her supposed violation of the dress code. To further complicate the situation, the shorts that Luiza was reprimanded for wearing were identical to the pair of shorts worn by a woman on the Vikes Recreation Instagram page just 3 days earlier, the photo was taken at Carsa which interestingly has a policy against photos. Upon realizing this hypocritical double standard, many supporters of Lulu took to the comment section of the photo to vent their frustration and share their experiences of being harassed by staff members at Carsa. One student mentioned being berated for briefly lifting up her shirt to look at her stomach while others shared similar experiences of staff members making judgement calls that lead to them being publicly humiliated.
We searched the Carsa website and found that their dress code is significantly stricter than other university gyms in the country such as UBC and UFC. This raises some serious ethical concerns about possible discrimination and bias in the application of a dress code that is so arbitrary and strictly enforced on mostly women. Earlier in the year, the Martlet published an article about a woman being suspended from the gym for taking a selfie and swearing at a man who sexually harassed her-no action was taken against the man. We found the response of the Associate Director of Carsa to be deeply troubling as she maintains that Carsa’s staff are well trained and equipped to handle difficult situations. Ms. Petterson fails to make the connection between slut shaming women for wearing shorts in hot weather and banning women for swearing at men who harass them while the perpetrators go free. Ms. Petterson fails to realize that public humiliation and victim blaming are integral parts of rape culture that she has a responsibility to address. Ms. Petterson also fails to admit that her inaction and dismissal of complaints about Carsa’s sexist dress code and incidents of sexual harassment contribute to a gym culture where predators are protected while women are silenced and punished for speaking up. Perhaps Ms. Petterson believes that if women complied with the dress code, they wouldn’t be sexually harassed. This is untrue and the complainant Sierra was in compliance with the dress code on all incidents of harassment she reported.
Luiza posted about her experience on her Instagram story which has now been viewed over 11 thousand times in under 24 hours. She’s revealed to us that over 20 women responded to her privately sharing their own bad experiences with Carsa’s arbitrary dress code, many of them saying they were publicly shamed or kicked out for violating the dress code that frankly seems open to the interpretation of the staff members on duty-going to the gym should not be a game of Russian roulette with slut shaming and public humiliation at risk. The gym should be an environment where women feel comfortable and welcome. The stories of Lulu and Sierra are sadly not unique or uncommon. They and many other women are considering or have already cancelled their membership due to the humiliation the Carsa staff have put them through and this is completely unacceptable. During our numerous meetings with Carsa officials, we have suggested several concrete steps that the gym can take to move towards an environment that is actually safe for students. some of these steps include the removal of the strict and arbitrary dress code that is inherently sexist and meant to slut shame and police women’s bodies; the addition of a section on sexual harassment and acceptable behaviour to the athletic waiver signed by every member and additional training for staff on how to deal with incidents of sexual harassment without calling campus security. Carsa has a responsibility to its paying membership to take action against harassment and slut shaming. Ms. Petterson and the Carsa administration can and should work to address these community members concerns not silence and humiliate them.