When I was in the fifth grade, my class won a field trip to the gym at East Carolina University. To a ten-year old, this was the dream. I could spend a day on a rock wall and play games with my friends rather than studying math or doing reading assignments. That gym created a certain standard for me for university recreation centers, so when I came to UNCG and got to the fitness center I was a bit… underwhelmed. Keeping in mind that East Carolina enrolled well over 10,000 more students than UNC Greensboro and was a “football school”, I still wondered how this university did not have a more expansive fitness center.
When they announced the plans for Leonard J. Kaplan Center, I was excited and then suddenly flabbergasted that I seemed to be in the minority. The backlash about various aspects of the construction was, and remains ,overwhelming even after the official ribbon-cutting at the beginning of August. No matter what negativity still exists, it is time to remove ourselves from the detriments this construction may or may not have brought on and look to the future benefits of what Kaplan Recreation Center will do for the student body.
The student body is the primary reason why this project was pursued. As stated on the Frequently Asked Questions sheet provided by UNC Greensboro, “Existing spaces are only able to accommodate between 50% and 65% of current demand for high priority activities of cardiovascular fitness, group fitness, free weights, weight machines and indoor walking. As a result of significant student enrollment growth since 1992 and facility usage by students, UNCG is now near the bottom of the UNC system in amount of indoor and outdoor recreation space.”
The expectations created by my ten-year-old self and anyone who has been at the gym recently can attest to the cramped nature of the original fitness center. Some nights it would look more like a Black Friday sale than a university workout complex. This new space has been designed to accommodate our forever-growing population on campus with students in mind.
Surveying and student involvement on the project began back in 2007, way back when I was in middle school and the Twilight franchise was entering pop culture. The students who first conversed about a new recreation center have long since graduated and moved onto new parts of their lives.
UNC-Greensboro did not create this complex overnight, and some of the key points opponents argue are things established long before the official announcement was ever decreed. At the same time, they set aside what this new center means for student health.
Exercise’s many benefits have been well-established by the medical community, but psychologist are taking note as well. In December 2011, the American Psychological Association published a report showing the benefits of using exercise and other physical activity as a form of treatment for patients, citing many researchers and psychologists who work at the college level.
One cited psychologist, Dr. Jennifer Carter, spoke of how she walks with students during counseling sessions, allowing them to relax more and allowing the physical activity to enhance the session. The listed benefits within this APA article are too extensive to be listed here, but here are a few: the sense of accomplished found in a workout, the overall mood enhancement, and possible alleviation from symptoms of chronic depression due to the increase in serotonin levels.
This scientific support connects the logic in how the new gym played a role in UNC-Greensboro being awarded 2015 Active Minds Healthy Campus Award. The mental health awareness and support initiatives on campus are also found in the creation of Kaplan Recreation Center. It shows a different approach to combating the anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses many students face, an approach that goes beyond the counseling center. It opens a door for the entire student body to be a part of the school’s health initiatives.
This new facet to our university will allow for UNCG students to enhance their bodies and minds to become overall better students in the classroom. See how it all comes full circle?
So, to those who still want to turn their noses up at the gymnasium for whatever reason, be my guest. Thousands of your peers (including me) will be reveling in how we do not have to fight for a treadmill, excited to have more space in group fitness classes, and riding on the Spartan Chariot hyped up on an endorphin rush. Also, maybe, just maybe, there will be a pack of little kids who visit one Friday afternoon to play and leave with a university-level dream that will last them for the years to come, just like it did for me.