When personal goes public

Students’ health is their own concern

Should a student’s personal health be their own concern, or does the university have a right to get involved?

   In the last weeks of January, a small college in Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr, was forcibly brought to America’s attention due to a controversial move. The university sent out an email to all their students with an elevated BMI, publicizing a fitness program. Many of these students were outraged by this body-shaming.

Bryn Mawr took private health information collected by the school’s health services and used it to target the overweight students as a potential audience of a fitness class. Intentions were good, but it was intrusive and violated the students’ privacy. Health is a personal choice, and forcing such personal choices on students is not a move that should be in universities’ playbooks.

A physical education requirement is different: it does not force a choice on personal health for students, nor is it an intrusion into a student’s personal concerns.

UMBC, like many other universities, has a physical education requirement. This encourages students to practice healthy habits. According to Gary Wohlstetter, senior associate athletic director, “Providing student[s] with the foundations and practices of physical fitness, exposure to lifetime sports and activities, which are new and unique, can provide opportunities for a healthy lifestyle.”

In addition, Wohlstetter believes that “Physical Education helps release stress, improves cardiovascular health and decreases sleep deprivation in young adults.” Universities wish to encourage healthy habits altruistically, while they also do not come under fire for unhealthy behavior and the consequences thereof.

However, Bryn Mawr took this encouragement to the next level, making it more forcible, with specific students as targets.

As Wohlstetter said, UMBC believes in a “sound body, sound mind” philosophy. “Personal health is a personal choice, but UMBC is providing the students the tools to approach personal health.”

There is a difference between a physical education requirement and this email sent out by Bryn Mawr. UMBC’s policy is non-intrusive, and is not a violation of the privacy of the students in these classes — instead it’s a required class, an academic investment.

Students have the right to regulate their own personal habits, and Bryn Mawr violated this right. PE requirements do not intrude into a student’s life choices, and do not target a specific population based on weight.

Perhaps Bryn Mawr should focus on the required PE credits for all their students, as opposed to shaming specific students because they do not match the school’s ideal body weight. UMBC in particular isn’t infringing on personal health, merely creating well-rounded, physically-active adults, which is what all universities should aim for.