Athletes often refer to the section of Dodge Fitness Center reserved for non-athletes as “the Muggle gym.” As a Muggle, I like to think the term applies not to those within the gym, but to the gym itself. For this reason, I agree—our exercise facilities need work.
The pristine rowing gym stands in stark contrast to the Dante-esque pit of the tri-level plebeian gym packed with frustrated Columbians jockeying for benches. The divide is evident and, for a non-athlete, maddening.
This of course is no fault of the athletes themselves, who, as some of the hardest-working individuals on campus, rightly deserve their own gym. This article is not meant to further the ridiculous athlete vs. non-athlete drama, nor to make excuses for my own sloth, but merely to call on Columbia, and indeed those Columbians within, for better exercise facilities.
I find it hard to believe that a university with the resources to bulldoze half of West Harlem to build a new campus cannot afford collars for the weight bars, rendering several benches and squat racks useless. After some intensive pseudo-scientific investigation, I have observed that, on average, there are 13 collars for the entire gym (warning: I did not do a p-test), though oddly the number waxes and wanes rather frequently in a manner similar to sock disappearance. Gyms generally have a basket full of the cheap equipment.
Along with a dearth of collars, Dodge doesn’t even have bars on all of its bench press racks. There are few things more tragic in life than getting all the way to the gym on chest day only to be greeted by a naked bench press rack. (Those douchey enough to identify with that sentence know where I’m coming from.) As with the collars, most gyms actually have extra bars—a concept that must come as a surprise to whoever manages the Dodge weight room. There ought to be a small, out-of-the-way area dedicated to different attachments and tools.
Perhaps the simplest fix is to put new stickers on the dumbbells. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who don’t re-rack their weights, but it’s pretty hard when all of the stickers have rubbed off. Spending five minutes searching for the right dumbbells is an infuriating hassle that simply doesn’t need to happen.
To remedy this, I am asking not only the managers of Dodge to spend a buck-fifty on stickers, but also asking gym-goers to be respectful of the facilities and of each other.
Lastly—what the hell happened to the floor in the west corner of weight room? How has this blatant safety hazard not been addressed?
These problems may seem minor, but combined they result in people being turned off from the gym. In short, there is a general culture of disrespect and sloppiness of both the gym managers and the gym users.
Much of what is wrong with the gym is far more endemic than stickers, new collars, or even a floor repair. In the end, Columbia simply needs a new gym. Currently we are constricted by physical space—a sacrifice all of us chose to make by moving to Manhattan.
I pray (although only first-years might reap the benefits) that the Manhattanville campus will open enough breathing room to build a newer, more spacious gym. The expansion of our campus must be directly analogous with the expansion of exercise facilities for students and undoubtedly a subsequent improvement of student life.
Columbia clearly has deeper issues than a flawed gym. However, many of those problems could be addressed by improving physical health at Columbia. A more inviting and efficient exercise space would undoubtedly do wonders for student health and even academic performance.
Exercising rearranges neural chemicals and releases endorphins and other analgesics that are instrumental in combating depression and giving students the endurance to make it through finals season.
Imagine a Columbia where Adderall was replaced by a pre-breakfast elliptical workout, there were fewer people smoking (and sobbing) outside of Butler, and maybe even one less candlelight vigil on Low Steps. The connection is undoubtedly extreme, but I truly believe the many of Columbia’s issues could be combatted by overall physical health across campus. This, of course, starts with a functional gym that students want to use. If we view the gym not only as a place to exercise, but also as a center for motivation and de-stressing, it will no longer be a back-burner priority.
In the end, I’ll gladly tolerate the label “Muggle.” I will not, however, tolerate a gym known as the same. Both the student body and those at Dodge can make this a reality. To the gym patrons, please do your part by re-racking your weights, being patient with each other, and being respectful of what integrity is left in Dodge. To those at Dodge, please consider a few of the fixes above. To the administration, please consider expanding the athletic budget for us Muggles and, most importantly, prioritizing a new gym to complement the expansion of our campus.
In time, Columbians might flex more than just their mental muscles.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in history.
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