University apologizes to student who was dress coded at the gym for 'distracting' crop top

Elise Solé
Canadian college student MacKenzie Parsons says she was dress-coded for her crop top at the St. Thomas University gym. (Photo: Facebook/MacKenzie Parsons)

A university apologized to a student who was lectured for wearing a “distracting” crop top to her school gym.

“It was totally inappropriate for the gym employee to speak to the student about her outfit and we apologized to her in person on Tuesday,” Jeffrey Carleton, associate vice-president of St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We take full responsibility for any embarrassment this caused.”

On November 22, senior MacKenzie Parsons posted a Facebook photo of her gym outfit: high-waisted leggings and a crop-top. Today, at the St. Thomas University gym (J.B. O’Keefe fitness center) I was told that my crop top was “distracting” and that starting in January they will have zero tolerance for crop tops and that this was just my warning for now,” she wrote. “But yet men are allowed to wear anything they wish. My workout should not, in my opinion, be compromised because I am deemed distracting.” 

Parsons said she was quitting the gym after what happened. “As a woman, we are always taught what’s appropriate to wear and what’s not, while men can wear anything and everything and get nothing said to them,” she wrote. “…This is why women feel that they are to blame in trials, because if they dress a certain way that is looked at as “inappropriate” they’re the problem. I should be able to wear what I want to the gym and feel comfortable without being patronized and kicked out because of a piece of clothing. I’m not there to distract those around me, I’m there to work out and work on myself.”

In fact, the school fitness center doesn’t even have a dress code and one that fairly addresses all genders will finalize in December.

Parsons did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comments. She told CBC it was the second time her workout clothes have concerned gym staffers. In September, a female employee told her to leave the gym because she wasn’t wearing a T-shirt over her sports bra. “After that happened, I looked for the dress code in the lobby at the gym,” she said. “There’s no dress code in the lobby, there’s no dress code online on their website, on their Facebook page, it’s nowhere to be found.”

Carleton tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Parsons did the right thing by taking to Facebook, allowing the university to issue a public apology and make its campus, which is 75 percent female, welcoming for everyone. “We will do everything we can to make sure the student feels comfortable returning to the school gym,” he says.

In October, a Canadian college student at the University of Prince Edward Island was also told her crop top was too “distracting” for the school gym. After Kylee Graham, 22, was issued a warning about her outfit, an employee later told her, “My co-workers and I discussed what you were wearing and decided it was OK” adding, “…We are trying to find a happy medium where girls can still work out with men” and “so that [girls] aren’t too much, and distracting.” 

Christia Brown, P.h.D., a professor of developmental psychology and author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue, tells Yahoo Lifestyle the word “distracting” suggests that girls should not question or disturb the male gaze. 

“Schools often use this word to shield girls from sexual harassment, but that’s paternalistic within itself,” she says. “It suggests that girls need protecting from themselves.”  

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