Thursday, December 3, 2009

Too Fat to Graduate

Too Fat For a B.A.? is an article run by Lemondrop. I encountered it via Twitter and I have to say, I'm a little disgusted.

This is a dangerous line for the university to tread. Why? Because it borders on hazing. Actually, in my opinion, it absolutely is hazing, but we'll get to that in a moment. College is a stressful time for most kids. A lot of them are leaving the house for the first time and being exposed to an unending stream of new experiences. By forcing students who are overweight to take an additional course will only add to the already enormous amount of pressure placed on them. I'm all for requiring students to take a fitness class to learn about healthier lifestyle choices, but if you're going to make it mandatory, make it mandatory for everyone.

Which is why I say this is hazing. If a sorority or fraternity did this to its new members, they'd get in major legal trouble with the university, their national headquarters, and the Panhellenic or Interfraternal Councils. And indeed, many have gotten into trouble this way. If this kind of behavior is sanctioned by the university under the guise of concern for the students' health, what example does it send our young people? It tells them that singling out a group of others based on how they look is an acceptable reason to hold them to different standards. It's not. Students go to college to get an education, and yes, that education should include a course on healthy habits, but not simply because a student falls outside a set of arbitrary parameters. It's a dangerous precedent to set. It says that if research proved that men had a higher tendency towards violence, that they could be required to take a class on anger management. Or if women were more prone to depression, they could be forced to seek mandatory counseling. Whenever you target one group for different treatment, you open the door for other groups to fall victim.

In addition, this ignores the needs of a different set of students. Those who are considered underweight are just as unhealthy as those who are overweight. Anorexia, bulimia, and other body dismorphic disorders are serious conditions and equally life threatening, but in this society are often overlooked. This is because we glamorize "thin" and "skinny" in favor of healthy. And college is the perfect breeding ground for these conditions to develop. Yet, the university is making no such sanctions for those whose BMI is below the normal range to take a similar course. It is sending the message that too thin is better than too fat.

I can't really give the school much credit for their efforts to make their students more healthy because they've chosen to do it in such a misguided fashion. My college required all of us to take a health course as part of our general education core. At the time I found it tedious, but now I respect them for choosing that path over the one that Lincoln University has chosen. I hope the school officials see arguments and posts such as this one and take a long, hard look at the message they want to send versus the implications they seem to be making.

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