Did college remove 'fat shaming' sign after student complaints?

A Pennsylvania college may have removed signs promoting exercise and a healthy lifestyle after concerns they were “shaming” students and made them feel guilty. According to The Dickinsonian, administrators at Dickinson College decided to remove signs urging students to “take the stairs."

“Why not take the stairs if you are physically able?” the signs, at least one of which appeared by a campus elevator, asked, the paper reported. "By taking the stairs for two flights in lieu of the elevator, you will expend 14-20 calories.” 

Campus Reform sought multiple times to confirm the Dickisonian's report with the school but did not receive any response. 

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The signs also reportedly calculated the number of calories an average student would burn each day, stating that if they took the stairs, they could “expend the equivalent [of] 2.5 to 5.4 lbs” in their four years of college. 

Sophomore Prabhleen Kaur was not happy with the signs.

“I began to feel guilty every time that I took the elevator,” Kaur told the Dickinsonian.

After taking the stairs and experiencing adverse effects, dizziness and difficulty breathing, she decided to get the administration involved, along with the help of Amy Farrell, a Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies professor, and fellow student James van Kuilenburg.

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“These signs were effectively fat shaming as they promoted weight loss as a positive thing,” van Kuilenburg told the Dickinsonian. “It had a negative impact on campus to have a series of signs that glorified a dangerous narrative that feeds into eating disorders.” Van Kuilenburg added that he hopes Dickinson will shift toward promoting body positivity and place “less emphasis on dangerous social body expectations.”

Campus Reform reached out to Farrell multiple times for comment, but she did not respond in time for publication.

Farrell reportedly forwarded van Kuilenburg’s opinions on the signs to Brenda Bretz, vice president of campus inclusion, who claimed to the Dickinsonian that the school subsequently took the signs down because “we do not support any signs that directly or indirectly shame a group of individuals.”

“We suspect that these were signs routinely placed by a vendor associated with servicing the elevators at some point in the past,” she said, according to the Dickinsonian

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But College Democrats President Preston MacLean told Campus Reform that the school had a right to keep the signs up. 

MacLean noted that Dickinson “shouldn’t get in the game of social engineering” when it comes to whether or not the signs should stay up, but should take more of a passive role.  The College Democrats president argued that the college supports healthy living, despite what some say. 

“Men's Health Magazine, in 2006, named our campus among the top 25 healthiest campuses in the country,” he said. “This is the result of having world-class dining and athletic amenities and based on our surveyed exercise and eating habits...[it’s] disingenuous to claim the school is somehow against health and fitness...I think the school does plenty to encourage and facilitate a healthy and active lifestyle.”

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