Pa. University Targets Overweight Students

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Students at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania are upset about a school rule requiring overweight students to take an exercise course in order to graduate. The rule applies to students with a body mass index above 30. James DeBoy, chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Lincoln University, says the school officials believe that its their responsibility to alert students to the dangers of obesity.


When seniors at Lincoln University graduate next spring, as many as two dozen could be banned from taking part in the ceremonies. The historically black college in Oxford, Pennsylvania, says it will withhold diplomas from obese students who fail to meet a new requirement for all undergraduates. The school requires any student with a body mass index of 30 or higher to take a Fitness for Life health and nutrition class.

The enforcement of that requirement has caused an uproar on campus. The university so far has stood firm, insisting that the measure sends an important message about battling obesity in black America.

James DeBoy is chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Lincoln University. He says the university has an obligation to promote healthy lifestyles on campus.

Dr. JAMES DeBOY (Chair, Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, Lincoln University): We know that obesity and its co-morbidities are going to rob individuals of quality and quantity of life. What good is it to go through college, get your bachelor's degree at Lincoln University, go get your graduate degree, work for five, six, seven years, and all of a sudden, you experience a catastrophic health issue associated with the obesity. That would be a tragedy. So we again believe that it's our professional educators' responsibility to alert students to this.

NORRIS: A lot of people on campus, even members of the faculty, say the school has completely overstepped its bounds here. They say that this is discrimination, pure and simple, and it seems like they have a point.

Dr. DeBOY: Mm-hmm. Well, let me back up a little bit. Colleges test, they assess. A test, by definition, does discriminate. It separates out a particular attribute. If we choose not to do this, what is the solution? These people can say what you're doing at Lincoln University is wrong, it's mean-spirited, it's evil, okay? That is not addressing the problem. The faculty says that this is that important that we're going to take the hits, we're going to take the criticism, but we have to stand tall. Tell it like it is. Are we going to be criticized? Absolutely. But we have to do what is right.

NORRIS: Now, some of the students say that the university is culpable in some way here. They point to the food that's served, for instance, in the dining hall, and they say that the university does not always offer the healthiest of choices when it comes to the menu.

Dr. DeBOY: Right, right.

NORRIS: Do you bear some responsibility for the people who've put on a few extra pounds while they've been at school?

Dr. DeBOY: Certainly there's - it's a question of what's the opportunity as far as foods, and Lincoln again, as an HBC�

NORRIS: It's an isolated campus.

Dr. DeBOY: It's isolated, that's true. Lincoln, as an HBCU, is underfunded. All HBCUs, as far as I know in my 35 years here at Lincoln, have been historically underfunded. How do you keep costs in line? Unfortunately, one way to cut is that you have food that is going to probably be less costly. Healthy foods cost more; that's a reality. But you can also�

NORRIS: And it sounds like you're saying the university does bear some responsibility here.

Dr. DeBOY: We are who we are. We live where we live. Yes, there are certain things that you cannot control, absolutely, but some of the things you can, and they're the ones we're trying to, you know, embark upon as far as changing.

NORRIS: So just to go back to those two dozen seniors who might not be able to march across that stage at the graduation ceremony, do they still have time to enroll on this class?

Dr. DeBOY: Absolutely.

NORRIS: If they just started showing up, they'd be able to graduate?

Dr. DeBOY: Absolutely. The course is offered in January. We're finishing up our fall semester in two weeks. The classes begin in early January, and we will get those seniors in those HPR 103 classes by hook or by crook, and the opportunity is there for them to take it, and they complete that course, it's not a problem.

NORRIS: Well, Dr. DeBoy, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you very much.

Dr. DeBOY: Thank you very much, Michele.

NORRIS: James DeBoy is the chair and professor of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania.

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