Obesity and the Rhodes
Today, I am writing a letter of endorsement for a student applying to the Rhodes Scholarship. Like most scholarships, it has specialized criteria: excellent grades, leadership skills, moral character. But the Rhodes has another standard by which it judges applicants:
"(2) energy to use one's talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports..."
The guidelines go on to state:
"Participation in organized sports is not essential if applicants are able to demonstrate in other ways the physical vigor which will enable Rhodes Scholars to make an effective contribution to the world around them."
Mr. Rhodes was certainly within his rights to establish his scholarship with the criteria he desired, and the Selection Committee is - of course - required to honor his vision. But I wonder who out there is not applying who should be applying because they fear their weight automatically disqualifies them from contention.
When I think back on myself, at the age when I could have applied to be a Rhodes Scholar, I certainly had the grades. I had the leadership skills. I was interested in bettering society, and I had good moral character. But I was also fat and not an athlete. I highly suspect my earnest statements about walking and hiking and camping would not have made a very positive impression on the Committee. Because there is this false belief in modern society that moral virtue = vigor = a slender, athletic body. And while I dearly hope there are individuals who can see beyond that equation, I suspect that there are very few who will.
Today, when I advise students about fellowships - especially those students who are not involved in sports or who are overweight or obese - it hurts me to have to discuss the above listed criteria with them. The students I talk with have the ideas, passion, and, yes, the vigor needed to change the world for the better. But I fear most of them won't have that chance ... either through the Rhodes or through other opportunities who have the same beliefs about the body but don't address them as forthrightly.