A version of this letter was previously sent to college administrators on Thursday, Nov. 4 by the leadership of YouPower, Middlebury’s free spin club.
On Nov. 1, YouPower was informed via email that there is not a suitable space for riding indoors on campus at this time. Due to the rapidly approaching winter weather, this means that we will not be able to resume our classes until late spring. We have not yet been given a timeline around replacing the HVAC system in our studio in the FIC in order to conduct classes in the space. As the executive team of YouPower, we are thoroughly disappointed by this outcome as we are an established organization that is otherwise supported by the institution and adds unique value as a free and accessible group exercise experience for all students on campus. Moreover, we are disappointed on behalf of our riders, a diverse cross-section of the student population who consistently fill 19 classes per week and who will be left without a valuable opportunity for an inclusive community and movement-based stress release.
In 2012, YouPower was created as a science project. Since then the studio slowly evolved into what it is today — a free and empowering exercise option on campus. For the approximately 73% of students who are not varsity athletes, YouPower is among the most accessible group exercise options available: all equipment (bikes, shoes and towels) is provided, no specialized skills are needed, and riders can enjoy group camaraderie while customizing the workout to their individual ability. In contrast to some of the major players in the spin world (such as SoulCycle), YouPower at Middlebury is centered around empowerment, inclusivity and accessibility, a mission that shows through in the organization’s popularity on campus. In the 2019–20 school year, or the last year we were able to use the FIC, we had 1,401 unique attendees out of 2,580 total students; this means that nearly 55% of the student body has attended at least one class. Even during the restrictions of Covid-19, about one quarter of the student body attended at least one outdoor ride. We are fully funded by the SGA, and this financial support illustrates that not only do our riders find value in the service, but that the larger student body sees it as a meaningful part of the Middlebury experience. Large swaths of the college utilize our services for exercise, stress release and a sense of community, and often find it integral to their time at Middlebury.
Our organization allows Middlebury to deliver on their promise to provide athletic opportunities to “all students regardless of their background, interest or level of expertise in a diverse/equitable and inclusive environment.” On a campus marked by division between athletes and non-athletes, YouPower holds immense value as an opportunity for the school to offer alternative exercise programs for the whole of the student body. YouPower has filled a hole in the health and wellness curriculum with unpaid labor by instructors and the board. In fact, we offer PE credit for our classes, once again alleviating the college of responsibility for the health and wellness of all students.
Last year, in light of Covid-19, our team worked tirelessly to ensure class took place with Covid-19 guidelines in mind. We were able to move our entire operation outdoors after a tedious process coordinating with facilities, SAO and athletics. This year we are unable to operate indoors because our studio in the FIC has inadequate ventilation which has led to the growth of mold. After multiple weeks of coordination, we have been able to establish regular outdoor classes, however, the weather will soon necessitate a return to an indoor location. We have made a large capital investment in the purchase of our indoor bikes, and being forced to use them outside has proven structurally damaging. As the weather worsens, it will only inflict more wear and tear on the bikes.
Consequently, we’re forced to face the unfortunate reality: We have no functional space to hold our classes, and due to weather, we will not be able to commence riding outdoors again until late in the spring semester. Despite multiple empty and underutilized rooms on campus, such as the empty bookstore room below Proctor Dining Hall, the hockey lounge or the football film room in the athletic center, the bike room next to the squash courts (which we would use in the mornings and on the weekends to accommodate the team), YouPower leadership has been informed that there is no indoor space currently available for our use. After inquiring into using an athletic center space we were told: “Unfortunately, athletics really isn’t suited for this...They can come and use the bikes, but not in this type of manner. It would be best to find them a new place on campus.” However, YouPower has its own bike supply, speakers and equipment; we simply need a room in which to conduct classes. One solution offered by SAO was to establish a virtual “Peloton-style” program, in which instructors would record classes and students could go to the gym and ride on their own time. Not only does this solution completely eliminate the aspects of community and fellowship that are core components of the YouPower ride experience, but it also fails to account for the fact that the athletic center only has three bikes within the cardio center, all of which are outdated, uncomfortable and in need of serious servicing. This solution is wholly inadequate and fails to address the longer-term issue of either fixing the FIC spin room or determining a new permanent home for us on campus. To eliminate YouPower spin classes until the weather cooperates again in April is to deprive a majority of the student body, especially non-athletes, of one of the most accessible opportunities for organized exercise for a significant portion of the school year.
In conclusion, we are disappointed and dissatisfied with the lack of urgency on getting us a new space. We ask that we be offered a temporary location for the rest of this school year. Second, and more importantly, we ask that we receive a timeline on either fixing the FIC or determining a new permanent home for YouPower. Our organization has served the campus in a unique way for nearly 10 years and has alleviated responsibility for the institution by creating an inclusive athletic environment for all students, not just athletes. We refuse to allow a lack of interest and effort from the administration to block us from serving the campus community.