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Black college to fat students: Take fat class or don’t graduate

24th November 2009

Black college to fat students: Take fat class or don’t graduate

posted in Fat Bias, Rachel |

An historically black college in Pennsylvania is preventing more than two dozen seniors from graduating not because of their academic standing or disciplinary measures, but for the simple fact that they are fat.

Inside Higher Ed and the Associated Press reports that Lincoln University in Oxford, Penn. is threatening the group of 25 students with their hard-earned diplomas because they have not taken the “college-sanctioned” steps to show that they’ve lost weight or have at least tried.   This is the first class required to either have a BMI below 30 or to take “Fitness for Life,” a one semester class — that they are forced to pay tuition for — that mixes exercise, nutritional instruction and lectures on the health risks of the Big Bad Obesity Epidemic.  James L. DeBoy, chair of Lincoln’s health, physical education and recreation department, said he sees it as his “professional responsibility to be honest and tell students they’re not healthy” — and apparently to prevent them from graduating unless they comply.

Right.  Because fat people simply don’t know they’re fat.  And they’re not bombarded on a daily basis with an arsenal of the so-called health risks of being fat.  Why stop at fat people?  I mean, aren’t thin people just potential future fatties?  Why not push the obesity fearmongering and weight-stereotyping onto the entire student body?

Frankly, I don’t know what’s worse: the blatant discrimination shown here by the school, or the fact that a historically black college is the body enacting the discrimination.

An online petition has been started here. Send outrage to: James L. DeBoy, luhper1111@aol.com; President Ivory V. Nelson, inelson@lincoln.edu

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 at 3:21 pm and is filed under Fat Bias, Rachel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 38 responses to “Black college to fat students: Take fat class or don’t graduate”

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  1. 1 On November 24th, 2009, Blimp said:

    Sounds like Uncle Tom’s University. I wonder if this is part of Obama’s health care reform?

  2. 2 On November 24th, 2009, Bronwyn said:

    This.. is ridiculous.

  3. 3 On November 24th, 2009, Bree said:

    I wrote on Big Fat Blog that because Lincoln is a black college, that race is probably a factor, most likely due to criticism of the black community, mostly from upper-class white professionals, on their supposed tolerance of fat, as well as their poverty levels. It doesn’t make it right though.

  4. 4 On November 24th, 2009, Rachel said:

    That may certainly be a factor, Bree. Blacks (and other minorities) do tend to be disproportionately fatter than whites and the college did specifically cite obesity rates among blacks as a chief concern. While their hearts may be in the right place, their efforts are certainly misguided. As the news reports note, there exist no body of studies upon which they can draw any qualitative or quantitative benefits to be had from singling out fat students for these classes. If anything, it makes the double yoke of oppression that fat black students face that much greater.

  5. 5 On November 24th, 2009, Bronwyn said:

    And besides, if they’re really concerned with the health of their students, a much more effective and less discriminatory way of doing that would be requiring wellness classes (or seminars, or something) for *everyone* rather than ONLY the students with a BMI over a certain level. This is flat out awful.

  6. 6 On November 24th, 2009, Bree said:

    Most colleges do require all students, regardless of weight, to take a fitness course. When I attended a local community college in 1993, they required both an individual fitness class of your choice and a personal fitness class. The personal class was like Curves—you did rotations on machines and a ground level balance beam. You checked your heart rate after each exercise. The only time an instructor took part was at the beginning, to check your blood pressure and give you a breath test, and show you a video about the class. It was an easy class to pass, and I enjoyed being able to try out a variety of machines.

    Lincoln should have taken the approach my community college did, without using weight loss as a motivator and singling out its fattest students for shame.

  7. 7 On November 24th, 2009, Laura said:

    While what this college is doing is ridiculous, I don’t know how much it matters that it is historically black. I was taken aback at the title, in fact, it was so blunt. But perhaps that’s the point, to get one’s attention. Still, every group in America has been discriminated against in some way. When I see this argument (such as blacks voting against gay marriage) I always feel the word HYPOCRITE being thrown at the black community. For some reason, it just doesn’t sit right with me. Yes, in America blacks have an impossibly long history of being terribly discriminated against and severely oppressed, but the rest of us deserve just as much blame, for we were all oppressed at some point. At different levels, yes. But it is not really fair to hold one group more accountable over the other, seeing as we’re all making the same mistake, and none of us hold the true experiences of our ancestors.

    Still, great post Rachel. Signing the petition now.

  8. 8 On November 24th, 2009, living400lbs said:

    You know, I think I’d love to teach that “Fitness for Life” class. Required reading:

    * Traci Mann’s Diets Don’t Work paper
    * Linda Bacon’s Health At Every Size

    Activities include:
    * Critiquing popular fitness articles
    * Weightlifting and bodyweight strength training
    * Dancing, walking, and other “stealth” aerobics
    * Yoga
    * Judo

    What do you think?

  9. 9 On November 24th, 2009, PlusSizedFeminist said:

    As a woman of color, you just can’t imagine how many times I headdesked when I read that. Seriously? An HBCU doing this? I’m guessing it’s a racial thing for sure. I’m gonna give that whole thing a good month before they change their policy. I signed that petition, and I’ll be writing a letter to that president.

  10. 10 On November 24th, 2009, PlusSizedFeminist said:

    When I see this argument (such as blacks voting against gay marriage) I always feel the word HYPOCRITE being thrown at the black community.

    You know, I notice that. With teh gay thing it was “hey, we are oppressed just like you! Why aren’t you supporting us??? HYPOCRITES!!!”

    Now with this, it’s like “Hey! Black folks! Y’all are supposed to LOVE fat people!!! Y’all are always talking about ‘junk in the trunk’ and stuff! Why this? HYPOCRITES!”

    It gets a bit annoying…

  11. 11 On November 24th, 2009, living400lbs said:

    I also wonder if Lincoln is finding an athletes have a BMI greater than 30.

  12. 12 On November 24th, 2009, living400lbs said:

    ANY athletes. Gad.

  13. 13 On November 24th, 2009, lilacsigil said:

    Blacks (and other minorities) do tend to be disproportionately fatter than whites

    But also healthier at higher weights than Caucasian or Asian people – even if the BMI tables did say anything useful about an individual’s health, they are based on white people’s body weights.

    And WTF is the racism in the first comment? Not to mention, most of the rest of the First World has universal healthcare and no bullshit “fitness” classes in college.

  14. 14 On November 24th, 2009, O.C. said:

    The head of the phys ed department was interviewed on NPR tonight. I was struck by the tone of self righteous anger in his voice. It was all about how this is the hard thing to do but it’s the right thing to do and blah blah blah. I kept wondering if he realizes what this program says about the research skills of his faculty and administrators, if nobody has realized yet that there’s no research-based evidence supporting this program. None.

    I also hope that someone sues about this, on the basis of differential access. If a thin student can graduate with X number of credits, but a fat student must earn X+1 to graduate, that fat student is being charged more tuition and fees to graduate than the fat student. It already costs way too much to get through school. This additional burden is going to be just enough to put some fat students out of the running for a degree.

    I also wonder how they can put this program into place with their current senior class, which is indeed what they’re doing. I’ve worked in universities for almost 20 years, and at each school a class is held to the standards set out in the catalog from their entrance year. This keeps students from having to chase after a moving target as standards change over time. So I don’t know how Lincoln can drop this bombshell on students getting ready to graduate.

  15. 15 On November 24th, 2009, O.C. said:

    Obviously I meant “than the thin student”. :-/

  16. 16 On November 24th, 2009, Rachel2 said:

    There are so many things wrong with that policy that I don’t even know where to begin. I was wondering if you’d pick that article up, Rachel. I’m glad to see that you did!

    First of all, as you’ve discussed here on your blog, BMI is a crock of shit. Athletes have a much higher “BMI” than normal folk, and generally agree, the BMI thing is a crock of shit.

    Second of all, let’s play “Single Out the Fatties!” again! Their hearts *may* be in the right place, but if they give a damn about people’s health (and ACTUALLY give a damn about it), then why not require ALL students to take the wellness and fitness course? Some people are just plain lucky and are naturally thin, but I’ve found that just because somebody is naturally thinner than me does NOT mean that they are automatically healthier than me. The “Single Out Fatties” approach pisses me off to no end.

  17. 17 On November 24th, 2009, Rachel said:

    Most colleges do require all students, regardless of weight, to take a fitness course.

    Really? I attended two colleges and neither required this. None of the other colleges in the area require it either. I’m sure you could take a nutrition class and have it count as an elective, but none of the students in UC’s liberal arts program even had the option to take such a class and have it count towards our degree requirements.

    Now with this, it’s like “Hey! Black folks! Y’all are supposed to LOVE fat people!!! Y’all are always talking about ‘junk in the trunk’ and stuff! Why this? HYPOCRITES!”

    I apologize if anyone took offense at the title. I certainly don’t expect black people to be a homogeneous group in terms of political ideology, but for a historically oppressed group to be promoting discrimination against another body of oppressed people is so very wrong-headed to me. You don’t have to be a fat acceptance cheerleader to recognize that singling out one group of people, financially penalizing them and then threatening them with their diplomas (and professional livelihoods) if they don’t comply is discriminatory, period.

  18. 18 On November 24th, 2009, Miriam Heddy said:

    O.C. wrote, “I kept wondering if he realizes what this program says about the research skills of his faculty and administrators, if nobody has realized yet that there’s no research-based evidence supporting this program. None.”

    And *that* was what I thought as well. Setting aside the obvious horrors of this policy, it’s an embarrassment (or rather, it should be) to the faculty and school that it would implement a policy that is insupportable when examined rationally. At a time when schools nationwide are emphasizing assessment and research on programs to justify their efficacy, this stands out as a reason why potential students should think twice before applying to Lincoln. This policy’s implementation (and the attempts to justify it now that it’s come to light) suggests a substandard level of academic rigor at Lincoln.

  19. 19 On November 25th, 2009, O.C. said:

    Oh! I forgot to share a particularly choice moment from the NPR interview. The interviewer asked the administrator if Lincoln is in part culpable for its students’ weight gain, because it serves starchy and fatty foods in the cafeteria. He claimed that HBCUs are underfunded, so they have to economize. But he never admitted that maybe that the food that the university is providing to its students could be part of the problem that they’re now seeking to solve by punishing their own students!

  20. 20 On November 25th, 2009, Crimson Wife said:

    A lot of colleges require phys ed (or as my alma mater called them “activity units”) to graduate. But absolutely it should be an across-the-board requirement without singling any particular group out.

  21. 21 On November 25th, 2009, PlusSizedFeminist said:

    One thing that I read while perusing comments about the news article is that someone said “I don’t really know what a BMI of 30 looks like, but still, this is a good idea.” That just goes to show that the people are truly ignorant, and will follow what the “officials” tell them because they think it’s for their own good.

  22. 22 On November 25th, 2009, Lexie Di said:

    I heard about this recently and it is so distressing to me, as a college student with a BMI well over 30. I nearly started sobbing when I realized what they were pushing for. I would fight so hard against such discrimination. You know… the discrimination used to be less obvious (at least to me), and seeing it so blatant and, worse, seeing people support it really breaks my heart. I feel like I haven’t a friend in the world just because I’m fat.

  23. 23 On November 25th, 2009, fatgrad said:

    The university I attend has a requirement that all undergraduate students must take a wellness/fitness course before graduating. The campus was labeled one of the fattest campuses, if not the fattest campus in the US (of course, oh no! *eyeroll*) They took steps to offer more fitness classes through the rec center and offer more healthy food options (it was a campus that relied heavily on fast food.)

    They haven’t singled out any group of students, but they’ve made options for a healthier lifestyle available to everyone. That’s where Lincoln U can focus their efforts as well, I think.

    Also, when thinking about health, people seem to fail to also focus on other aspects that bring about good health: safer sex practices, drinking moderately, avoiding smoking, and taking care of our mental health as well. All of these are MAJOR health issues on college campuses and can affect student throughout the rest of their adult lives. Maybe they should take a look at that.

  24. 24 On November 25th, 2009, William said:

    Hi

    Added to this unfair treatment of the Plus Size Students is the fact that the Administration added this in retroactively. Some Seniors and Juniors will have to add a additional class to their semester schedules which could lower their overall academic performance.

    William

  25. 25 On November 25th, 2009, Rachel said:

    @William: No, I don’t think so. The reason why these 25 seniors are being threatened with graduation is because they entered as fat freshmen and never took the class. Theirs was the first class for this to apply.

  26. 26 On November 25th, 2009, CT said:

    It’s a discrimination issue at heart. The university administration should consider the implication of their ridiculous ruling before implimenting it. How would they feel if they or their kids were fat and being treated this way. What goes around comes around. If they treat people this way one day they’ll feel the pain when people treat them the same way one day. They are many other ways to encourage to stay fit like having something like biggest loser contest or something like that.

  27. 27 On November 25th, 2009, Meryt Bast said:

    This is a deformation of what a college education is meant to be, not to mention a blatant attempt at social control. I had to take a phys. ed. class in college, but no one was weighed or harangued about his or her body or fitness level. We learned basic anatomy, types of exercise, how to treat injuries, etc. During the activity part, we were free to choose among a variety of activities, including basketball or just walking the track. I liked it.

  28. 28 On November 25th, 2009, O.C. said:

    Unfortunately, CT, fat hatred and the fear of fat are so integrated into our society’s beliefs that I think those who’ve implemented this program would think that they and their family members would deserve discrimination if they were fat.

    I’m now wondering how this program skirts the laws protecting the confidentiality of medical records. Height and weight information should be protected under HIPAA. How can the university compel a student to release that information?

    Gah.

  29. 29 On November 25th, 2009, Quiltluvr said:

    There is legal precedent on a case like this. A student at a Catholic university was not allowed to continue a nursing degree because she didn’t lose weight fast enough. She sued all the way to the supreme court and won (I think). I really must buy Sondra Solovay’s book on legal cases (Tipping the Scales of Justice) so I can look these up.

    Anybody have a way to let the students know that there is a court case on their side, with nearly exactly these conditions?

  30. 30 On November 25th, 2009, O.C. said:

    Here’s a link to their Student Government’s part of the university web page:

    http://www.lincoln.edu/sga/index.html

    It doesn’t have an email address but it does have a phone number. Of course there’s probably nobody there today.

  31. 31 On November 25th, 2009, JennyRose said:

    I heard the NPR interview with Decoy and he was not the bullying phys ed guy I expected. He really seemed to care although he is blatantly wrong. If he could put his efforts in a better direction such as HAES and stress management he could actually do a lot of good. DeBoy frequently referred to Lincoln as an HBC and seemed quite proud of that fact. I also wonder if this is an attempt to interest students at a time when enrollment in such institutions is dwindling. I wonder, if given the fat-phobia that is out there, if the publicity of this plan will help with recruitment. It would appeal to the fat-phobes as well as fat people who internalize the phobia and hope such a program with help them loose weight. This policy would not have bothered my one bit during my ED days. Now I think it is beyond stupid, useless and harmful.

    As for; I kept wondering if he realizes what this program says about the research skills of his faculty and administrators, if nobody has realized yet that there’s no research-based evidence supporting this program. None.

    It is quite a tall order to expect a small college to be on the cutting edge of obesity research. So much promoting fat bad, thin good comes from the best medical schools and research centers in the country. Very few people beyond the fatoshpere realize HAES exists let alone believe it. Lincoln is basing its decisions on current research.

    I feel for these kids who have been singled out. They are graduating in a job-poor economy and do not need this added stressor.

  32. 32 On November 25th, 2009, J.S. said:

    For what it’s worth, I also have attended two universities and physical education was a requirement at both. However, as others have stated, it was a universal requirement, not just limited to a few.

  33. 33 On November 25th, 2009, Bronwyn said:

    @JennyRose- For what it’s worth, I’ve had that experience with phys ed teachers and the like many times; they really *do* care, even though it is misguided and can sometimes be rather harsh seeming (I think because they don’t have the experience of being in the fat person’s shoes). It’s true that there are plenty of bullies as well, but I’ve also known some very sweet people who are just so horribly misguided.

    Also, I want to add that the university I went to *did* require that you take 2 credits of phys ed type classes- meaning 2 classes. There wasn’t any requirement to take nutrition or anything like that, and the phys ed classes you could choose from were really widely varied- dance, sports, martial arts, boating, hunting… which I thought was pretty ideal for someplace that’s going to require that sort of thing. I know not every school requires this but it’s not exactly uncommon either.

  34. 34 On November 25th, 2009, O.C. said:

    JennyRose: “It is quite a tall order to expect a small college to be on the cutting edge of obesity research. So much promoting fat bad, thin good comes from the best medical schools and research centers in the country. Very few people beyond the fatoshpere realize HAES exists let alone believe it. Lincoln is basing its decisions on current research.”

    Note that I think we’re both pretty much on the same page here. But it really wouldn’t take a lot of fancy research to figure out that diet/exercise/self hatred doesn’t have a long lasting effect. For grins I’ve gone into the most obvious medical article database, PubMed/Medline, which pretty much any college library would have, and researched long term weight loss. Nothing comes up. So really, the most rudimentary of research would reveal the problems with the program. If you’re not already convinced that you’re right that is. (The “you” I’m referring to is the college, not, y’know, YOU. :-)

  35. 35 On November 28th, 2009, JennyRose said:

    OC – yes we are on the same page. It is just so frustrating that very few in the medical or research world beyond the fatoshpere gets it. It is not a conspiracy exactly but people, everyone from teenage dieters, to my neighbor to researchers at the Mayo clinic believe the conventional wisdom of fat = bad and calories in/calories out.

    I am just extremely frustrated and angry at this point.

  36. 36 On December 2nd, 2009, All Women Stalker said:

    Holy F….! This is absolutely wrong! What does weight have to do with graduating?!?

    -Denise

  37. 37 On December 3rd, 2009, Helen said:

    The head of our university health and benefits committee brought information about the situation at Lincoln University in and discussed it with the committee. I did not get the feeling she was for or against it and still don’t have any idea why anyone would think it was okay to single out fat people. I think she was just trying to get a reaction from some of the committee members.

    Why not have our university single out all the “problem” people and make them pay extra for their health insurance. Let me see now, what about people that smoke, are too thin, alcoholics, people with mental problems. Oh yes, that would be fine. What about people who dress inappropriately ? They would have to get makeovers so they do not offend others. Oh yes, and make the fat students (and faculty) lose weight or pay extra tuition for taking up more space on the campus.

    Hummmm there must be many things we could “punish” others for doing or not doing. Does anyone out there know if any of the students have sued the school? What are they doing to fat faculty??

  38. 38 On March 3rd, 2010, Big Fat Deal » 5 Things We May Want To Talk About said:

    [...] College mandates a “Fitness for Life” class to graduate… but only if you’re fat! Why stop at fat people? I mean, aren’t thin people just potential future fatties? Why not push [...]

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