On the Inaccessibility of the PE Requirement
Senator Beq Yonaka ‘23 sat down with Quest Editor Katherine Draves to discuss their work on Senate. In addition to their committee positions, Yonaka is working to address the inaccessibility of the physical education (PE) graduation requirement.
Can you tell me more about your personal project?
My goal very broadly is to change the way that the PE requirement works at Reed. Because of all the inner machinations of Reed, how [the requirement] changes is not necessarily up to me. But I think that there definitely needs to be alterations to the policy. Particularly, what I’m interested in is removing the requirement of PE credit for students to graduate. So that’s the goal, and the process is sort of what I’m working on now.
I started formulating a proposal last summer . I was having some conversations with people I knew who were current students and people who had dropped out or transferred. And I was hearing a lot from people about specifically having issues with taking PE classes, with accessing PE classes, with their experiences once they were in the class, with the lack of accommodations provided, specifically for attendance in PE classes. It just sort of became an issue that I was really interested in trying to affect change.
Generally, what are your thoughts on the current PE requirement as it exists now?
It is not accessible, and the accessibility of the requirement is the key issue for me because it’s the point at which I believe that the college can actually be mobilized to take action. So the way that I talk about this requirement with faculty and staff is that it’s not equitable. I mean, right now, it’s just certainly not equitable, because there’s no Sports Center for students to access. But even when there is, there are issues about physical accessibility of classes, about students having to put themselves in situations that might aggravate specific disordered eating behaviors, about general inaccessibility of PE classes, in terms of the times that they are offered either early in the morning or late in the evening. That can be really difficult for students who deal with a lot of fatigue, who deal with a lot of pain, who have a lot of jobs; a wide variety of people can be barred from accessing these classes because of the times that they’re offered. Basically, my argument is that if none of these issues are going to be addressed by the college one by one and fixed, then the requirement is not equally able to be completed by every student in the same capacity, and therefore, it’s not an equitable part of the Reed education.
So then you already kind of touched on it, but what do you hope to change?
I don’t want to stop PE classes from happening. That’s not my agenda at all. My only issue is with the requirement of a certain number of credits to graduate. So my ideal would be the PE classes would be accessible to every student and people would act in a kind way, conscious of those around them. But that is something that the college doesn’t really have a lot of control over, what they do have control over is whether this is a requirement for graduation. So basically, my ask of Reed is that PE credit not be a requirement for graduation.
I still am in favor of the credit being counted particularly because of the great opportunities provided by SEEDS for students to do community engagement to fulfill part of this requirement. I really want that program to receive more funding and more attention from Reed. I think that you should be able to have many community engagement opportunities, not just be restricted to the fulfilment of two credits. I think that should definitely be expanded.
So I don’t want the credit to go away altogether because then the incentive for students to engage with these opportunities is lessened. I do think that people being encouraged to participate with community engagement opportunities or PE classes can be very beneficial to their mental and physical health while they’re at Reed. I’ve talked to people who have said that PE requirements have been very important because they are an activity that they can participate in, that is within the community of Reed but that’s not academic. So they’re able to sort of have this Reed opportunity that’s not directly related to doing homework, to submitting assignments to being in class. And I think that is really important.
I would also really hope that by having these conversations, students, staff, faculty, and administration are able to sort of confront ideas that they have about the types of bodies and the types of people who are allowed at Reed, and the people who are encouraged to pursue all of their interests at Reed. I’m sort of hoping that this can start a broader conversation about the issues of the prevalence of eating disorders on college campuses, about issues of inaccessibility of campus facilities, to fat people and people of a larger size. I really want us to start having these conversations, because I think that when you’re not affected by these issues, it’s very easy to ignore. I want that to become a wider conversation that the college is having about access, about personal safety and comfort in situations, and about the ability of students to have a personally healthy experience at this college that’s not infringed upon by the idea of life of the mind but also life of the body and maintaining this sort of ideal physical form while you’re at college. I think that can be something that’s very, very pressuring to a lot of people.
What work has been done so far? And what has the response to that been like?
So as I mentioned, I started on this process last summer, sort of formalizing the ideas that I had, and the ways that I thought the program in general could be improved. In conversation with staff members, I sort of developed this idea of getting rid of the requirement but keeping the credit. Aditya [Gadkari, SCAPP Co-chair] brought up, while we were discussing this in SCAPP, the potential issue of students not being incentivized anymore to take advantage of community engagement opportunities. And that’s really something that I want to avoid, I really want to have those opportunities. So I think that just focusing on the requirement, not necessarily the question of credit for these classes, is important. So that’s definitely some learning that I’ve done over the past few months.
I’m so grateful that I’m able to be a senator and sit on all these committees and actually have these different perspectives, because it’s a difficult thing to do on your own. And it’s sort of been a singular project for the past while so I’m really excited about collaborating with people. I’ve also collected in my proposal, several statements that students have sent me about their particular experiences. I’m really, really grateful to the people who submitted their testimonies because I think that having actual student experiences will invoke more empathy and compassion among staff and faculty and actually mobilize them into making this a reality.
So where the process is at right now is SCAPP is basically workshopping it, getting it ready to bring to CAPP. Then hopefully in the next few weeks, we’ll be able to bring it up to the faculty.
Have you spoken to current staff or faculty about this? And what was their response like to your ideas?
I haven’t talked to any staff or faculty, I’m not really sure what the reception of this will be. I’ve been mostly focused on talking to other students and other student workers who do policy. So I don’t actually know what kind of reaction we can expect from them. I’m not really sure. And I’m also pretty inexperienced as a member of SCAPP at this point. So I don’t know a lot of the faculty particularly well, and I can’t really anticipate what kinds of issues they’ll have with it. I’m sure they’ll have plenty, and I’m sure a lot of those will have to do with the image of Reed, with preserving Reed tradition, with having all of these… well, all of these things that are not related to student wellbeing. It can be sort of frustrating when you’re bringing up these issues of equity and student experience and people are responding that we need to preserve institutional memory, we need to preserve the relationship of staff and faculty to Reed at the expense of students. That can become sort of a strange thing to deal with. But I don’t know. We shall see.
Are there other students that you’ve really been working with?
The Students with Disabilities Coalition and their input has been incredibly valuable to me. Specifically, this is an issue that came up once, when I heard an anecdote of somebody who had been not allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony because they had not completed all of their PE credits, even though they were a disabled student and received multiple accommodations. I’ve also received a lot of positive feedback from students, primarily on social media, about this project. I don’t even like calling it a personal project, because it’s a need that I see that I think needs to be fulfilled. I also think that with my own lived experiences, I have a certain amount of ability to talk about these issues. Not necessarily a position of authority, but at least some body of knowledge to draw from. I really just want to make this school a better and more equitable place for everyone; this is a way that I can sort of see myself being able to affect this kind of change.
How has your lived experience helped you approach this project?
At Reed, I have dealt with a lot of access issues in general. I’ve dealt with issues of not being able to access certain types of classes, there are certain majors that are not available to me because the types of accommodations that I can receive for them are not sufficient. I experienced this sort of rude awakening last year, when I discovered that I would not be able to physically attend biology labs in a way that was healthy for my body. That is sort of my jumping off point for dealing with issues of access at Reed: this experience of going into college thinking that I was going to have one major and discovering that the department was just not accessible to me. So that perspective informs me a lot.
I also have a lot of experience, both personally and through relationships with other people, with how cultures of exercise and this sort of ideal body type that is constructed by society and the ways that those have impacted students’ health and wellbeing specifically in PE classes from essentially infancy into adulthood. The fact that students who have had extremely traumatic experiences with physical education in the past are required to replicate that experience in a college environment, I think that’s kind of abhorrent. I think for a college that talks a lot about reaching out to the HCC [Health and Counseling Center] and cultural competency around eating disorders, things like that, I think that it’s kind of ridiculous that they haven’t discovered on their own this massive dissonance between messaging like that and the existence of this requirement.
There’s no accounting for how students will behave in a classroom environment. And what the college can do is mitigate harm for the people who are most affected by being in an environment with individuals who are actively trying to lose weight, who are demeaning others for their size, who are talking about how being fat or being disabled is the worst outcome in their life. That’s my life right now. And I don’t want to be in an environment with people who are actively in that environment, trying to become less like me, that’s not something that I should have to deal with in my college experience. I know a lot of other people who are going through the exact same thing and that’s really heartbreaking to me. I just want that to not be the case anymore. I think that if the college really wants to say that it cares about the health and wellbeing of students, it should not put them in a place where they, and their physical presence in that space, are being demeaned and diminished.
What else would you like to add?
This is not like the issue at Reed, right? Like this is not the most important equity issue that exists on Reed’s campus. People don’t really like the focus on the PE requirement, because it seems a little bit insignificant to them in the consideration of the scope of other issues on this campus. I just sort of want to reiterate that I don’t think this is the most important issue that exists at Reed, I just think it’s the issue that I am the most qualified to address. And that’s why I’ve chosen it as a project. I think that I can do this and I can do it well.
I would encourage people to reach out to other senators and hear about the personal projects that they’re working on. I would encourage people to know which of their professors are on decision making bodies like CAPP. Even if they don’t want to, like, directly confront these people about their policies, I would encourage students to be aware of the types of decisions that the faculty and admin at the school are making.