You may have heard that Lincoln University is requiring students whose BMI is over 30 to take a class called “Fitness for Life”. I think that this is a cheap publicity stunt (see #5 below) and I have many, many problems with it. Let’s just name a few:
1. It forces students to undergo unnecessary examination and disclose personal health information to everyone in the University (since everyone can see who walks in and out of the class). I’m aware that people think that they can see who is obese and who isn’t, but you might be surprised. and no student should be required to undergo this type of unnecessary invasion of privacy.
2. It makes broad assumptions that a population who engage in [what the University is assuming are the] contributing behaviors to an outcome has no knowledge of them. It makes me wonder if students who get pregnant are required to take a class on sex education. College is a time for students to seek knowledge, not have it forced upon them by the university fat police.
3. It places an unfair burden on certain students for a reason that has nothing to do with their ability to achieve the academic degree they seek. And it’s not just the time spent taking the class – studying etc. As I understand it, the students have to pay per credit hour taken (and this is not a cheap University) so it also places an unfair financial burden on those students.
4. It’s unlikely to be successful. We already know that 95% of dieters who choose to diet fail. The rates of failure are even higher among people for whom dieting is imposed. We know that BMI was never meant to be used on individuals, it was developed for use in populations large enough to be statistically significant. Yet “experts” continue to assert that if we make people hate their bodies enough they’ll want to take better care of them, and that dieting works – never mind those 95% of people for whom it never has.
5. It’s just a publicity stunt. I know this because if they are so concerned about this, they would require every student to take the class. Plenty of people gain weight later in life – if they truly believe that this class will help people have “Fitness for Life” then why wouldn’t they want every student to take it?
6. It starts a dangerous precedent. I’m not completely clear on what constitutes “passing” for this particular class and I couldn’t find anything through my research. It doesn’t appear that students actually have to lose weight but that doesn’t preclude it. Maybe someday actual weight loss will be required. Maybe not at Lincoln, but some other University will decide that they want to be the first that doesn’t graduate a single obese person, or a single person who smokes, or a single unwed mother. When colleges get to start passing or failing people on arbitrary non-academic grounds, a dangerous box is opened.
7. This class will not present new information. The diet industry is a 40 BILLION dollar a year enterprise and a massive marketing machine. Plus these students have already been through high school health curriculum, and are unlikely to have lived under a rock prior to coming to Lincoln, so one doubts that they somehow missed the propaganda about obesity.
8. The public is paying for it. While it is considered a Private University, Lincoln is in a special category of Pennsylvania Universities known as “state-related”. This means that it receives public funds but remains under independent control and is exempt from Pennsylvania’s open records laws. Meaning the people of Pennsylvania are funding this with their tax dollars, but have no say in this or any other program at Lincoln.
Of course, in theory students may choose whether or not to go to Lincoln. In my research I’ve found that the program has existed since 2006, and that this year’s seniors will be the first to be affected so it sounds like it is possible that this year’s seniors were aware of the program before they enrolled. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a choice – since many parents make that decision for their children. Plus, as a historically African American University, Lincoln is a legacy college and many of the students who go there are part of a legacy line and face tremendous pressure to attend.
Every student deserves an education free from harassment, persecution, and torment. Lincoln University is choosing to create an environment of bullying, shame, and humiliation all for the sake of a cheap publicity stunt. Shame on them.