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An uplifting approach to inclusivity

by Jennifer Johnson,

Going to the gym can be a real challenge. Finding the time or motivation is hard enough, and if you don’t have a positive perception of your body — or feel comfortable working out in that space — the thought of it is even more intimidating. 

Chris Olivia
Chris Olivia BA/BS’24

But what if you could work out with others who feel the same way? 

A student-created fitness program at Willamette University is offering that opportunity. Designed to empower marginalized students across a spectrum of gender and body types, Lift Up invites hesitant gym-goers to attend designated hours at Sparks Fitness Center from 4-6 p.m. on Sundays.  

Chris Olivia BA/BS’24 (he/they) — the program’s founder and the equity, diversity and inclusion coordinator for Campus Recreation — said the mission of Lift Up is to “create an inclusive community at Willamette so students beyond athletes and gym regulars can feel comfortable working out there.” 

More than two dozen students regularly attend the program. They either work out on their own or, until recently, participated in an introductory weight-lifting class led by PUSH Fitness owner and instructor Cara Lundquist in Salem. The six-week program, now finished for the semester, focused on teaching students basic lifting techniques with the equipment downstairs.

“If you go to Sparks, the weight room is the most intimidating space, especially for students who have never touched a barbell before,” Olivia said. 

Olivia’s plan for Lift Up took shape last year after he became LGBTQ+ resources coordinator for the Gender Resource Advocacy Center. Building on past efforts to reserve space at Sparks for certain groups, Olivia moved forward with his idea in partnership with GRAC and Campus Recreation. After collecting student input, he launched the program in April with a presentation and class by Turnquist, who spoke about bias, stereotypes and racism within the fitness industry. 

Olivia also led Willamette SafeZone, an interactive workshop that covers concepts in LGBTQ+ education, with Sparks staff. “We just want to make sure that they’re at least prepared to be an ally and understand what we need in terms of Lift Up hours,” he said. 

Olivia will continue to gauge interest in the six-week program and its effectiveness, and hopes others will join. Students who are already participating in Lift Up can offer their feedback in this form.

About Willamette University

Our historic campus next to the State Capitol in Salem houses a renowned residential liberal arts college, and our downtown Portland campus houses the flagship Pacific Northwest College of Art. Professional graduate programs in Portland and Salem include the Northwest's oldest law school, Oregon's top-ranked MBA program, MA and MFA programs in the arts, writing and critical studies, and our Computing and Data Science program.

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