Friday, November 02, 2012

Spelman College focusing on fitness, not athletics

Here's a bold move in this era of big-time sports: Spelman College is eliminating its intercollegiate athletics program at the end of the year. The all-female HBCU, lead by President Beverly Daniel Tatum, will take the $1 million annual budget for athletics and use to establish fitness programs to be available to the entire 2,000-women student body. Spelman will keep its PE requirement but will expand opportunities for activities  like yoga and aerobics. The emphasis, according to Tatum, will be placed on life-long health:
“We want them to live long and healthy lives so they can get the return on that investment they’ve made in higher education…. We really see this as a life-saving activity that we are engaging in.”
The emphasis on mind and body is refreshing especially in light of the population. Black women are at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and various cancers than their white peers--even when accounting for economic status and education.
It's an important and hopefully influential stand to take. What I did find surprising was the either/or position. Most colleges already offer fitness classes and facilities for students--even when they have intercollegiate athletic programs.  Good facilities are necessary to remain competitive with other schools and students expect them. But, of course, colleges justify the expenses by noting the need for healthy minds and bodies.
So why is Spelman only now refocusing its attention? As I mentioned, it always had PE but as Tatum noted, many PE activities (like archery) might be fun but they are not necessarily ones that students will continue afterwards due to both access and interest. So, again, the shift is good. And if taking away intercollegiate sports, which do not have a long history at the school (according to my friend's aunt who graduated in the early 50s sports--even team sports--were all in the context of PE when she was there), will facilitate the shift--then good! But it seems like the school didn't pay any mind to the fitness needs of its students outside of PE and intercollegiate sports. The last time the school gymnasium was redone was the 50s. Part of the new fitness initiative is raising money for a new gym!

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