Lincoln University faculty and administrators voted Friday to rescind a stipulation requiring overweight students to take a fitness course in order to graduate, an official told AOL Black Voices in an exclusive interview.
The official, James L. DeBoy, chairman of Lincoln's department of health, physical education and recreation, said the decision came after administrators and faculty decided that "relationship building between students and instructors is better than coercion" at the nation's first black university, founded in 1854 in Oxford, Pa.
"After much discussion, we are no longer requiring students to pass the fitness test in order to graduate,'' DeBoy said. "People were asking, 'How can you, as an HBCU, discriminate against anyone? You are testing students and singling them out.' Stigmatization can have a harming effect.''
The vote to rescind the requirement came during an emotionally charged regularly scheduled hour-and-a-half-long meeting, attended by 60 faculty members and administrators, in which other business also was discussed, DeBoy said. News of the course sent shock waves across the country last month when it was revealed by 'The Lincolnian,' the student newspaper, that co-eds would be unable to graduate without it. The story was picked up by news outlets around the world.
Under the new guidelines, according to DeBoy's motion that was obtained by AOL Black Voices, instructors will recommend the class to students whose health suggests they may benefit from it. Whether students choose to enroll in the class will depend on relationships between students and instructors.
"Let's be clear, if recommendations are not honored by students, we will be upset,'' DeBoy said. "We will come back with a different recommendation. Helping students monitor their health is really important to us.'' This was to be the first year of the requirement.
Students with a body mass of 30 or higher would have been required to take the Fitness for Life course for three hours a week, according to the Associated Press. A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, according the National Institutes of Health.
New guidelines for the course are still being worked out, DeBoy said. They may involve five assessments, ranging from measuring BMI, blood pressure, cardiovascular ability, joint range and self-efficacy (how much power students have over their health). It will meet two times a week for two hours instead of three.
Indeed, the fitness course is a clarion call for students to adopt better exercise and eating habits. But administrators could have been more compassionate about showing students they care about their health.