Payne Whitney sauna to be removed despite student petition
A petition to reopen the University’s sauna drew almost 1000 signatures — but an administrator said the shuttered space would be permanently converted into changing rooms.
Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer
“Shortly after this article’s publication, associate athletic director Ryan Hagen responded to a News inquiry by writing that the sauna will be removed in part due to maintenance and accessibility purposes.”
Read the original story here:
The Payne Whitney Gymnasium sauna closed during the pandemic and hasn’t opened since. Grace Gerwe ’25 wants to change that.
On Sept. 25, Gerwe started a campaign to garner student support for bringing back the sauna. She emailed 1,500 people and, due to a restriction on the number of emails to be sent in one day, created a separate email address to reach more people concurrently.
“Basically, I want a sauna,” Gerwe wrote to the News. “I work out every day and would use it all the time back home. I looked for one here last year and found out that it was closed because of COVID-19 — understandably — but now that restrictions are easing up, when I looked again, I was told it was being converted to changing rooms. This is a huge shame, because saunas are incredibly good for physical, emotional and mental health.”
The News was unable to confirm whether the saunas are indeed slated for conversion. Payne Whitney administrators did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.
Two days after starting the campaign, Gerwe sent out an email to all undergraduate students advocating for her cause. The email included a link to a petition for students to sign, where Gerwe delved deeper into her reasons for preserving the sauna.
She cited twelve purported health benefits, including decreasing stress, improving both heart and skin health, strengthening the immune system and aiding mental health. In addition, Gerwe argued that as the second-largest gym in the world by cubic feet, Payne Whitney ought to have a sauna, a feature that in today’s age is “a vital component of a quality gym”.
In addition, Gerwe also pointed out the cultural significance of saunas around the world as a reason for keeping one in the gym. She explained that they have a history dating back thousands of years ingrained in many cultures around the world, including her own.
“I grew up in Moscow, and saunas are very culturally important to me, not to mention the same for many Nordic, Indigenous and other cultures, all of which are represented by students here,” Gerwe wrote to the News.
As of Saturday, Oct. 1, the petition had received over 990 signatures from students who share Gerwe’s opinions.
Gerwe included a section on her petition for students to add any additional comments or thoughts they had in regards to the sauna.
“It makes no sense to have more changing rooms,” Costanza Mancini ’25 wrote to the News. “Every time I go to the changing room, there’s me and one or two other people and all empty space and empty lockers and benches. The sauna would actually be a much more useful space for our mental and physical health.”
While Mancini focused on questions of practicality and disputed the need for more changing rooms, others seemed to care more about personal enjoyment.
Bryson Gates ’26, who runs for Yale’s varsity cross country team, admitted that he did not feel a strong need for a sauna, but still thought that the space would be nice to have.
“If we desperately need a changing room, then it is probably necessary because a sauna is mostly a recreational thing, but I lowkey want a sauna,” Gates said. “I feel like when it’s cold, getting in there would be nice.”
Payne Whitney administrators have yet to respond to the petition, so the sauna’s fate continues to hang in the balance.