Furniture Accessibility at Scripps

By Sara Michael ’23

For individuals at Claremont who are fat, plus-sized, or large, the desk model in Scripps classrooms offers a combination of physical discomfort and humiliation. Many 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 can feel debilitating to struggle with where one is comfortable, or even able, to sit, and is a devastatingly familiar reminder of the discrimination and humiliation that happens too often to fat people.

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 perpetuates the culture of weight stigma deeply rooted in our society because it creates a judgement about what type of body sizes belong where.

“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.”

The tight seating at Scripps can erode students’ confidence and self assurance because people are being forced to feel smaller, a painful example of fat shaming. Students often internalize and personalize weight bias and can blame themselves for their weight. Weight bias and fat-shaming not only hinders self worth, but learning abilities and retention as well.

Marissa Parks ’20, who has worked extensively with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), discussed the impact that restrictive desk seating has had on her fat friends.

“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,” Parks said. “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.”

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.

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.

One of the solutions to the physical and mental restrictions that fat people may feel is to simply get rid of the desks and replace them with ones that are more inclusive to all body sizes. While this would require significant structural change as well as financial provisions, by creating an environment where fat students are not alienated, we are sending the message that they belong. we must create, and fight for, the diverse and inclusive environment that Scripps strives to model.

10/30, Volume XXIX, Issue 3