Dear Stephens College: There are better ways to raise 1 million dollars.

August 24, 2010 § 1 Comment


Before I transferred to SCAD, I attended a small college in Missouri called Stephens College. A friend of mine (a student at the University of Missouri — the school next door to Stephens) sent me a link to a recent story, in which an anonymous alum has pledged to donate one million dollars, if school employees collectively lose 250 pounds or more.

I think that linking a charitable donation to an institute of learning with weight loss is a bad idea. Especially at a place like Stephens, which is a women’s college.


Because many women are bombarded with so many images in the media, telling us to do this/buy that in order to lose weight. There are many competition style shows, in which contestants try to win money by losing weight. Jillian Michaels has garnered a great deal of money and fame by being the head screamer on The Biggest Loser, and her own TV show whose name I cannot remember, but would be best titled Jillian Michaels Really Enjoys Screaming at Fat People.

During my time at Stephens (Fall ’07-Winter ’08), it seemed like many of my classmates were in a never-ending weight loss competition with each other. One girl complained that it was “unfair” that a girl who was larger than her was a better, more flexible dancer. Another girl tried out the “Master Cleanse” with her friends: They spent a weekend consuming only a drink made from lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup. They did lose weight, but only because they spent their entire weekend in the bathroom, suffering from severe nausea/diarrhea. During my seven-week summer intensive, it seemed like I was the only person who wasnt freaking out about “getting fat” — we spent our mornings in an intense dance/aerobics class, followed by acting class, lunch, and time spent either in rehearsal or in the shop.

The most popular majors at Stephens (performing arts, dance, fashion) are majors that do place a great deal of value on traditional standards of beauty (thinness, conventional beauty, etc). Several professors in the performing arts department told some of my friends that they should lose weight, or otherwise alter their appearance (another was told that her muscles were too prominent).

I know that this “competition” is just for employees, but I think that saying “This is great! If we lose enough weight, our school will get a million dollars!” is going to send the wrong message to students.

Losing weight/being thin DOES NOT EQUAL health. It doesn’t look like Ms. Anonymous Donor has read this kickass post by Kate Harding. Why isn’t this anonymous donor pledging one million dollars if the school gets most of their food from within a 50 mile radius? Or if the school creates a program promoting physical activity? Also, if I ever got to meet President Lynch, I think I’d talk to her about many things other than whether or not she should lose weight. Evidently, it’s not enough that Lynch has many academic achievements, seems to be very well-loved by the student body (she became president after I left, and actually sent me a very nice email), or writes a very cool blog. She evidently also has to fit an anonymous donor’s (who evidently weighs 117 pounds) idea of what is an acceptable weight.

And according to an article by the Chronicle of Higher Education, not only is the anonomyous donor 117 pounds, she is 86 years old, and considers her weight a source of pride, because she has maintained this wieght since she married her husband. I’m also saddened that Lynch has agreed to this donor’s offer to pledge additional money ($100,000) if Lynch loses 25 pounds.

I also have a pretty good idea as to why President Lynch has taken Ms. Anonymous 117 Pounds’ offer: Stephens College is broke as a joke. There have been several times in the last ten years in which the school almost closed, mostly due to a decrease in enrollment, and financial fuckups by previous presidents. I don’t want to use the “slippery slope” argument because many conservatives have shown how fucked up that argument is when talking about gay marriage, but I have to wonder just to what extent the school will go to get money from other anonymous donors.

Would Stephens accept an offer from an anonymous donor who would pledge one million dollars if all of the students signed an abstinence pledge, or if the school nurse stopped talking to students about contraception? Or, as one commenter on the Chronicle article suggested, if the president agreed to adopt a donor’s religion?  I sure hope not. But by doing this, Stephens is saying that any alum with a big paycheck and an agenda can change the school’s policies. Even for the worse.

When I went to Stephens, we heard time and time again that the school was dedicated to producing “Smart, Strong, Savvy” graduates. Things like this weight-loss competition, among other policies* seem to say that the school’s talk of “Smart, Strong, Savvy” is just a facade for the same old lookism and sexism.

*Don’t even get me started on the shitty housing policy, which requires that all students (with some exceptions) have to live on campus for all four years (which isn’t cheap) because “we are concerned about women commuting to Stephens in bad weather,” according to the Dean of Students. In fact, this year, Stephens is leasing an empty dorm building to MU, because they have been experiencing a housing crunch.


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