Sara Michael ’23
For individuals at Claremont who are fat, plus-sized, or large, the standard desk model within Scripps classrooms offers a combination of physical discomfort and humiliation. Many chairs in Scripps classrooms have small tables attached, making them uncomfortable and even painful to sit in. This seating complication is an example of spatial discrimination, which is a form of fat shaming that is often overlooked.
It is academically debilitating to struggle with where one is comfortable, or even able, to sit, and is yet another manifestation of the discrimination and humiliation that our society inflicts upon fat people.
“I’ve noticed students in larger bodies being particularly uncomfortable in classes, and it’s not conducive to learning,” said Marissa Parks ’20, who has volunteered extensively with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
Navigating an inhospitable academic environment whose most basic academic resources aren’t accessible to all students can disintegrate fat people’s sense of self. An environment implicitly catering to thin people creates an inherent judgement about what type of body sizes belong in a space and perpetuates the culture of weight stigma deeply rooted in our society.
“If you’re a fat student and you come here and tour, and you take a class, and you can’t fit in a desk, what does that tell you about whether or not you’re welcome here?” said Rose Gelfand ’21, who has written essays about the weight stigma. “Unfortunately, [Scripps] is giving such a clear indication that this is not a space for you, in a way that nobody even has to say. Just the physical size of the space is enough to tell you that this is not your place.”
This expression of weight bias and fat-shaming not only hinders the inclusivity of our academic environments, but learning abilities and retention as well.
According to Cheryl Pump, Procedure Specialist at Scripps, “the Facilities Department provides furniture categorized as “universal,” which means that it accommodates various body types and is flexible for multiple classroom formats. The Department is also able to accommodate requests as received by the Office of Academic Resources and Services.”
However, not everyone finds that the seating at Scripps is inclusive or able to accommodate diverse bodies.
“A friend told me about someone not fitting in a seat at Scripps, and it really upset me and I was like, oh wait, I don’t think I would fit in all the seats anymore,” said Parks. “That made me really angry because I wanted to know why aren’t there seats that can accommodate people with different bodies. When I go into a classroom and the desk feels tight, I feel really bad. It makes me wonder if people are looking, and it definitely distracts me from learning.”
However, the potential harm of our academic furniture extends beyond in-class distraction. An article published by Harvard Public Health, titled, “The Scarlet F: Why Fat Shaming Harms Health, and How We Can Change the Conversation” explained the adverse health effects of the stress that comes from fat shaming.
According to this article, “The body adapts to stressful situations by sending out hormones, including epinephrine and cortisol, and by triggering other stress-mediating changes to the heart, muscles, and gastrointestinal tract—the so-called fight-or-flight response.” Confining seating options can also heighten stress levels, as well as harm learning and retention.
Ongoing stress that can be exacerbated by fat-shaming comments or interactions can lead to cellular damage, increased risk of heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
While replacing some academic furniture would require funding, it is a necessary step in order to counteract the alienation of a considerable section of our student body. We must continually create and fight for the diverse and inclusive environment that Scripps strives to model.