Lincoln University Drops Obesity Requirement – Fitness for LifeDecember 8th, 2009 by Amelia
Inside Higher Ed suggested that ‘Fitness for Life’ may well have been “the most discussed college course around” in recent weeks. But almost as soon as the course made national news, it has become a footnote in internet lore.
Adopted in 2006 by Lincoln University, the course was to be a graduation requirement for a select group of students: those seniors with a body mass index score of above 30. This year’s seniors were the first to be affected by the requirement: either lose weight or complete the Fitness for Life course by the time they graduated.
Amidst Outrage, Other Colleges Express Interest
According to newspaper sources, Lincoln faculty, concerned with the negative publicity surrounding the requirement, met on Friday and made the course voluntary in a near-unanimous vote. The policy will be one that encourages students who are obese to take the course, but the school has ended “the stipulation that these students enroll in the class as a graduation requirement if they don’t lose weight.”
Interestingly, according to school administration, once the story hit the national news, phone calls began coming in from other colleges seeking information about how to set up programs to help obese students. While those inquiring might have had a different idea about making course requirements, apparently many schools are concerned with the issue.
Still, many staff at Lincoln, the first historically black college created in the United States, were reportedly upset by the school’s sudden, new-found fame. Instead of the university with “the fat class,” Lincoln’s faculty and alumni preferred a return to the days when the school was known for the likes of Thurgood Marshall and Langston Hughes.
Though the faculty chose to end the requirement, James L. DeBoy, chair of Lincoln’s health, physical education and recreation department, continuously held fast to the idea. Prior to the meeting, DeBoy published a document urging staff to ‘stay the course’ and not dwell on the outside criticism:
“As educators we must be honest with our students and inform them when behavior, attitude, knowledge bases, or habits of mind are not what we, the faculty, deem as acceptable,” wrote DeBoy. “Any factor/trait/characteristic that we believe will hinder students’ maximum development and full realization of life goals must be: (1) brought to their attention; (2) substantiated as being detrimental; and (3) adequately redressed.”
After the vote, Inside Higher Ed noted DeBoy “was not distressed because of the continued commitment to the course and to raising the issues involved.”
Though Legality Unanswered, Students Pleased
The vote left the legality of the requirement up in the air. Many had called the initial requirement discriminatory since it required only certain students complete the course. But school officials insisted that legal concerns were not a critical component of the decision.
Students however, seemed pleased with the results. They also seemingly had an impact on the final vote since several were in attendance at the meeting.
One of the students present at the meeting, junior Sharifa Riley, was unequivocal in her pronouncement when discussing the topic with Philly.com. “It’s discrimination if they tell one group, ‘You’re too fat, you have to take this course,’ and they tell another group, ‘You’re OK, you don’t have to take it,’” Riley was quoted. “If everyone had to take the course, that would have been better.”
And fellow junior Lakeishia Fleet, 20, called the new policy “a good idea; it gives us a choice. Now we can get back to worrying about finals, not a weight class.”
According to reports Lincoln University had been the only college outside the nation’s military academies to invoke some form of physical fitness requirement for graduation.