Spring on the York College campus

Starting the Conversation on Size Acceptance

By Kevin Baker '16
Ragen Chastain, a size acceptance activist who spoke at York College
Ragen Chastain, a size acceptance activist who spoke at York College.

Students at York College experience a wide spectrum of ideas, and engage in open, serious, and respectful dialogue about subjects, including social movements, through classes, guest lectures, Cultural Series events, First-Year Seminars, independent studies, and many other forms of learning. They hear about topics that they didn't even know existed, and have opportunities to evaluate research and discuss different viewpoints that influence the world they live in.

Two topics that have recently engendered interest and debate are the size acceptance and fat studies movements. Erec Smith, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition in the English and Humanities Department at the College, has conducted extensive research and published essays about size acceptance and fat studies. He said that size acceptance is "an activist movement searching to end discrimination against fat people," and he described fat studies as "an interdisciplinary academic field focused on the impact of body size on society and popular culture." 

In the Fall 2014 semester, students had the chance to attend a guest lecture by size acceptance activist Ragen Chastain, author of Fat: The Owner’s Manual and The Politics of Size; Perspectives from the Fat Acceptance Movement. The Associated Press and The Chicago Tribune have featured Chastain as an expert in the field, and she has made appearances on FOX News, NBC News, NPR, BBC, and other TV network stations. 

The goal of Chastain's lecture was to "begin the conversation on size acceptance here at York College," according to Smith, who helped to organize the event. Chastain also visited an Advanced Composition writing course to discuss her work as a blogger for the size acceptance movement. She said, "The size acceptance movement is important because, when people hate or are uncomfortable with their bodies, it affects every area of their lives — work, relationships, health, everything. People don't take care of things they hate and that includes their bodies."

Some of the responses that Smith saw during the lecture and classroom visit were students who, despite their agreement or disagreement with the topics, were excited to see a new set of ideas that they had not known about or considered previously. Alexandra Yambor '15 (York, PA), attended both the lecture and the classroom visit by Chastain. She said, "As a student highly interested in the Cultural Series events, and modern cultural and scholarly topics, I found Ragen Chastain’s lecture and class visit both intriguing and invigorating."

Nicole Di Lillo '16 (Staten Island, NY), another student who attended both Chastain's lecture and the classroom visit, said, "Her lecture was compelling because she was able to grasp the attention of such a big audience, especially college students, with engaging topics."

Later, during the Fall 2015 semester, some incoming freshmen took a First-Year Seminar  (FYS) course taught by Smith that focused on the size acceptance movement. The goal of all FYS courses is to allow new students to develop the skills that they will need both during and after their time at college. Students in Smith's seminar learned these skills by using resources, including blogs, articles, art, and film, to study various perspectives. Some examples are Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay’s The Fat Studies Reader, Ragen Chastain’s blog Dances With Fat, and the Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) website. (Other major sources that students used are listed in the sidebar).

By taking advantage of events such as Chastain's lecture or Smith's FYS, students are learning about size acceptance and fat studies, two modern social movements. Chastain said, "Introducing students to modern social movements is vital . . .  Students come to college from a wide variety of backgrounds, and may not even be aware that these movements exist, so familiarizing students with these movements is part of any good liberal arts education."