Graduates of Spelman College listen to actor Danny Glover during commencement ceremonies for the womens” school May 19, 2002 in Lithonia, GA. Approximately 450 women received their undergraduate degrees from the predominately black school. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)
by Similoluwa Ojurongbe, theGrio
Spelman College, the all female HBCU, has made the difficult choice to abandon its athletic program in exchange for improved fitness facilities and a more inclusive wellness program for its students.
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “When I was looking at the decision, it wasn’t being driven by the cost as much as the benefit. With $1 million, 80 student athletes are benefiting. Or, should we invest in a wellness program that would touch every student’s life?”
Spelman might not influence other schools in the region where sports are more intertwined with the identity of the university. But some schools suffering from deep budget cuts could consider following suit.
Tatum is more concerned with the students’ health and the responsibility to help. She told the Journal-Constitution, “one out of every two students has high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes or is obese.”
“I have been to funerals of young alums who were not taking care of themselves,” she said, “and I believe we can change that pattern not only for them but for the broader community.”
Recently, $228 million in grants were given to HBCUs by the Department of Education. Many have speculated about how that money would be managed when schools like Morris Brown were in financial peril due to financial mismanagement, corruption, financial aid theft and foreclosure.
For HBCUs, the cost of athletic programs have shown an increased strain on their budget. As the cost to maintain the programs doubles, their student enrollment decreases. Many of their students come from low-income families and are finding it difficult to get loans due to the weak economy and tight credit requirements.
Spelman will be using funds previously allocated to sports to renovate the school’s Read Hall, which was built in the 1950s, into a state-of-the-art fitness facility open for longer hours.
“We are trying to meet students where they are in terms of their interest, but also helping them understand that the elements of wellness … are the kinds of things that are going to help them avoid the kinds of illnesses that are killing African-American women far too early,” Tatum said.