McGill University has refused a request from female Muslim student Soumia Allalou to set aside hours for women to use its athletic centre.

McGill Deputy Provost for Student Life and Learning, Ollivier Dyens, met with Allalou to discuss her proposal.

"We don't believe in the segregation of our services, we don't believe in separating some groups from others on campus," Dyens said .

"It's always been clear, McGill is secular and co-ed, and this is what we promote."

The university does have women-only hours at one of its swimming pools, but the university says that's different.

"It's true, the pool has women-only hours, but we believe there is a modesty issue that is more predominant in the pool, mostly because people wear bathing suits," Dyens said. 

He said his office received negative feedback on the idea of women-only gym hours.

"We received many e-mails. Most people don't want us to segregate our services."

Women only 'more comfortable'

The issue has been hotly debated on campus for weeks.

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Soumia Allalou, 23, is a second-year McGill Law Faculty student who started the proposal for women-only gym hours along with another student, Raymond Grafton. (Photo used with permission from Soumia Allalou)

A petition has been circulating opposing Allalou’s request, saying exclusive rights to the gym should not be accorded to any specific demographic group.

When she first made the request, Allalou told CBC News that she preferred to work out in a women-only environment.

"I think there are many reasons women would want to work out only with other women. They might feel more comfortable. They might have had bad experiences in the past," said Allalou.

The Students Society of McGill University had supported Allalou’s request.

Vice-president Claire Stewart-Kanigan released a statement Friday saying she was disappointed by the university's decision.

Stewart-Kanigan said that the SSMU had been trying to broker a compromise, but that the university shut down negotiations.

"The action of unilaterally cutting off talks with an advocating student, particularly when steps were being made towards a compromise that could respect all parties’ needs and concerns, is an affront to the right of students to engage with and be treated with respect by their university," said Stewart-Kanigan.