Alumni Pool Introduces Single-Sex Swim Hours

Pilot Program Funded By Institute Chaplain

The Alumni Pool next to the Stata Center will be open two extra hours each week to accommodate a single-gender swimming program from now until June 5.

On Tuesday nights from 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., the Alumni Pool is made available to women only. During the same hour on Thursday nights, the pool is open to men only.

The program is a response to student demand, said Director of Recreational Services Tim Moore.

Zahra Khan G has been a particularly strong proponent of bringing the program to MIT. 97 women and 27 men responded to a survey she gave in February about optimal times for single-gender swimming.

Institute Chaplain Robert M. Randolph helped to fund the incipient program. Initial costs, according to Randolph, were around $2,500, spent from a fund earmarked for general student needs. Much of that initial expense included one-time costs such as the installation of curtains to ensure the privacy of swimmers.

If the program continues, Randolph said, he will find additional funding for the recurring costs of staffing the pool two extra hours a week.

Although the pilot program will end during the week of commencement, the athletics department hopes to make the single-gender swimming hours permanent if there is strong interest, said Moore.

According to Murtaza Nek ’09, only three men have taken advantage of the swimming hour each week. Khan says the program is more popular among women; nine showed up the first week, and 13 showed up during the second. Nek attributes the disparity to greater publicity among women. Khan said she advertised the single-gender sessions to members of the Muslim Students’s Association, students associated with Hillel, and residents of all-female undergraduate dormitory McCormick Hall.

Nek also suggested that the difference in interest may be because women might feel more uncomfortable among men in the pool than vice versa.

“Guys are more likely to ogle at women,” Nek said.

The inconsistency in participation appears to coincide with the interest Randolph and Moore noticed prior to the program’s implementation. Both noted that women had requested the single-gender swim sessions more often than men.

Moore and Director of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation Julie Soriero said they would prefer to keep both of the single-gender sessions. “You have to offer opportunities to both [genders],” Moore said.

If the men-only hour were to be eliminated, Nek said he would return to using the pool during regular hours, as he did before. Khan was less open to the idea of returning to the pool during regular hours, citing the cumbersomeness of wearing a sufficiently modest swimsuit.

MIT’s decision to begin holding single-gender swim hours comes on the heels of a decision by Harvard University to begin making one of its gyms open for women only during six specific hours each week. That move sparked local and national controversy, as some believed the move was sexist and caters to religious interests — specifically, Muslim interests.

Moore says single-gender swim program at MIT has nothing to do with sexism or religion. “We try to meet demands wherever they are,” he said.

Moore also pointed out that the Harvard program substantially differs from MIT’s, as Harvard offers female-only hours but not male-only swimming hours. He also noted that the single-gender times occur outside regular operating hours. The Alumni Pool closes at 9 p.m. on weekdays, so there is a thirty minute gap before the single-gender swim sessions.

Randolph said he supports keeping the swim option open. “We have a big and diverse community and I think it’s important to allow that diversity to express itself,” he said.