Fresno State student told she had to ‘cover up’ at gym. Is school’s dress code sexist?

Fresno State student says she was unfairly told to “cover up” for wearing sports bra at gym

Leila Mori, a Fresno State student, says she was sexually discriminated against at the university's gym when a male staff member asked her to cover up because she was wearing a sports bra.
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Leila Mori, a Fresno State student, says she was sexually discriminated against at the university's gym when a male staff member asked her to cover up because she was wearing a sports bra.

Fresno State student Leila Mori was on her second treadmill mile at Fresno State’s Rec Sports & Fitness center, when last month a male employee approached with a request.

“Cover up.”

The 30-year-old junior student was wearing high-waist yoga pants and a sports bra, with only about 2 inches-and-a-half of skin exposed.

The employee asked if she had a shirt, and Mori said she complied with the request.

The student employee said it was gym policy to always have a shirt on. “I continued to do my cool down, but I couldn’t help feel like that was so wrong,” she said. “I felt very sad and I felt very, like, ashamed in an instant.”

Mori said not only was her gym attire not inappropriate, she feels polices like Fresno State’s oppress women — a form of body shaming.

A similar situation is also playing out at Clovis Unified School District, where female athletes say they are also being body shamed.

Double standard at Fresno State?

Although Mori was asked to cover up when the incident happened back in August, she noted there were about half a dozen men working out with “deep cut-off shirts,” barely covering their upper bodies.

Mori said she approached a female supervisor to get answers about why she was being singled out, but her concerns fell on deaf ears.

The supervisor had said a male student earlier in the day had been told he was in violation of the policy, according to Mori.

Yet, that supervisor didn’t take any action with the men violating the policy as they spoke, Mori said. “I kept telling her ‘This is not OK — you are shaming me’,” she said.

Mori sent an email to Derek A. Walters, director of the Rec Sports & Fitness Center. He defended the action taken against Mori, and referred her to the gym’s guidelines.

The gym’s policy states “a shirt covering the torso must be worn at all times in the Fitness Center,” among other sporting locations.

“Were you allowed to enter (at the front desk) wearing your sports bra or was it covered?” Walters wrote in his email response to Mori. “Our facility staff usually explain the policy if someone attempts to enter in attire that is outside our policy and will ask them to be within the policy before entering the activity area.”

Walters didn’t respond to Mori’s follow-up email asking why no action had been taken with the male students.

Walters told The Bee that the university’s policy, for the torso to be covered, has been in place since 2006, and it’s in line with other college campuses.

The gym, Walters said, doesn’t keep track of policy violators, male or female. “We are not going to see everyone,” he told The Bee. “But we try to do our best to enforce it equally.”

In a statement to The Bee, Carolyn Coon, dean of students at Fresno State, said officials “strive to ensure that all students are treated equally and fairly” at the on-campus gym.

“Staff members of the Student Recreation Center do their best to ensure that all our policies are monitored and handled equitably for all students,” she said.

Several other students told The Bee it’s common for men to wear small, cut off tank tops barely covering their upper bodies.

Mori’s not the only person who has noticed the potential double standard.

Marcela Amador, a graduate student at Fresno State and gym patron, said what men get to wear doesn’t cover much.

“You can see their torso, honestly you may even get a nip-slip, it’s really not covering anything,” she said. “I think the only violation that goes to them is if they drop the weights. Other than that, they have no…clothing rule against them, it’s mostly toward the girls.”

Mori says she was also told she had been asked to cover up because of safety reasons, which doesn’t make sense to her.

She plans to file a Title IX complaint next week against the school. Title IX is a federal law that ensures male and female students and employees in educational settings are treated equally and fairly.

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Yesenia Amaro covers immigration and diverse communities for The Fresno Bee. She previously worked for the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia and the Las Vegas Review-Journal in Nevada. She recently received the 2018 Journalistic Integrity award from the CACJ. In 2015, she won the Outstanding Journalist of the Year Award from the Nevada Press Association, and also received the Community Service Award.