Letter to the Editor: UWL is not inclusive of fat students

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Letter to the Editor: UWL is not inclusive of fat students

Alyson Young, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major and Psychology minor at UWL.

Alyson Young, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major and Psychology minor at UWL.

Alyson Young, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major and Psychology minor at UWL.

Alyson Young, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major and Psychology minor at UWL.

Alyson Young, Guest Contributor

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Throughout my time at UWL, I have become more aware and more vocal about social justice issues, specifically on this campus. One issue that I have become particularly interested in is fatphobia, especially at UWL. Being that UWL is a standard-size campus, with many exercise sport science and pre-athletic training students, there is a level of hypervisibility for fat students and staff.  

In my final semester, I decided to do my senior capstone project on the effects of required gym/health classes on our campus, which include HPR 105, HP 105, and HED 207. I hypothesized that students would find these classes to be discriminatory against certain groups of students, but that they would reduce their biases against fat bodies in the process of being in this class. I surveyed UWL students and got about 200 responses back. Many of the respondents (43.1%) found that the class that they took was discriminatory in at least one aspect (the three subgroups being students with fat bodies, mental illnesses, and physical disabilities). The most discriminatory class, according to this survey, was HPR 105. I can make an educated guess that this is because there is the physical component to this class, which makes students with fat bodies and physical disabilities hypervisible 

What was most interesting for me to see was that, when I analyzed the respondents answers to health myths, many students that took these classes answered that they believe that being thin does not necessarily mean someone is healthy, but this percentage was much smaller when looking at the students that believe that being “overweight” does not mean someone is unhealthy. This was particularly interesting for me because if the students in these classes were being taught that just because someone is thin doesn’t particularly mean they are healthy shouldn’t they be taught the same thing about fat folks? Research has repeatedly shown that weight and health are not mutually exclusive and are not proven to be causally related.  

There needs to be consideration around assessing these courses to find where the misinformation is coming from. Are the books outdated? Is the research outdated? Are the professors aware of the research that contradicts what they are teaching? If anything is taken away from my research, it is that many students at UWL find that these classes are discriminating against many of their peers, which should be enough to consider a change in curriculum.  

Aside from these classes being problematic, there is a general culture of fatphobia on UWL’s campus, as stated before. I brought this up to Chancellor Gow at his open forum, informing him that the desks on our campus are not accessible for fat students or students with disabilities. Not only is it humiliating to not fit in your desk, but it also creates a sense of not belonging at a place of higher education. When I brought up this issue on our campus, the Chancellor responded that he had never considered this issue before, but that he would look into getting actual tables and unattached chairs for the classrooms. He mentioned, though, that this could be expensive. I find it interesting that the budget for the university can pay $49 million for a new field house in the next two years, and $55 million for the student union (paid through student funds of course), but they cannot afford to pay for students to comfortably sit in class, which I can promise would not cost that much money.  

One of the main reasons why the new field house is being supported is because we are a campus of student-athletes, even though we are a division three school. It makes it very clear that the campus does not value its fat students. The student-athletes already have two buildings and a stadium on this campus to perform their activities in, whereas fat students do not have a single building that they can be fully comfortable in and they are constantly having to prove their worth on this campus. 

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