Many students (including myself, until recently) are unaware that Dodge Fitness Center offers group fitness classes like yoga, aerobics, and swimming separate from the course listings. Considering that there is a physical education requirement for all Columbia College and School of Engineering and Applied Science students to graduate, it should come as no surprise that the physical education classes that are listed in the Bulletin fill up extremely quickly when course registration rolls around. So if you have a terrible registration time or can't fit a desired PE class into your schedule, you're out of luck.
A large portion of our Student Life fees goes to the athletic department, which includes PE classes for credit, varsity sports and club teams along with access to Dodge Fitness Center. The fee is mandatory even if you never set foot in Dodge. Ongoing debate about the role of athletics in Columbia life aside, it's troubling that it costs up to $200 for a semester of these voluntary weekly or semiweekly group classes on top of our already high Student Life fees.
Of course, it's understandable that these additional classes offered through Dodge cost Columbia extra money. Many of the instructors come from outside the University, and equipment for certain classes is expensive (like Scuba, which costs $250 per semester). And the truth is that, compared to gyms and studios elsewhere in Manhattan, Dodge's classes are significantly less expensive. The problem, though, is that we're already paying for access to Dodge, and charging us additional fees on top of the use of fitness equipment is placing an undue burden on students of a variety of backgrounds.
In an Eye lead last month, David Salazar asks us to consider how students from a wide variety of backgrounds continually face the burdensome price of living in New York and being a student at Columbia. Even for students without pressing financial concerns, money is money, and paying $125 to take aerobics classes at a gym we already pay for seems excessive. For some students, fitness classes are a very effective way of improving not only physical health but also mental health. Being charged money to take the same kind of PE class that others get academic credit for just doesn't make sense. Shouldn't our mandatory membership to Dodge include fitness options for those whose idea of exercise isn't just spending an hour on a treadmill by themselves? For the same reason that our student life fees enable us to join clubs, attend guest lectures, and explore organizations' events of interest, the hundreds of dollars we pay each year to have access to Dodge should allow us the full variety of PE offerings available, with supplemental fees only for special cases like the Scuba classes.
What students face here is the not-so-uncommon mixed message from Columbia: The Core for Columbia College and SEAS students requires that we take two semesters of physical education, but these classes fill up sooner than most students can grab a space. CU Move sends out emails encouraging us to get active, but we're faced with (figurative, no pun intended) hurdles, such an increasingly crowded swimming pool and worn-down facilities. When discussing the sizable portion of our student life fees that goes to athletics, former Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger told Spectator last year, "We view it as an option that's available to everyone regardless of whether or not they choose to take advantage of it." But can we really say that we have a full array of choices if some of the physical education "options" necessarily bring with them undue financial burdens for the same students funding these programs?
The group fitness classes are clearly a strong step towards improving the physical and mental wellness of Columbians, particularly those who aren't inclined to participate in competitive sports or those (myself included) who lack the self-discipline to adhere to an individual fitness regime. The next step, then, is making these classes truly available to all students—not just those with the financial stability to pay for them—and ensuring that our Student Life fees are being put to work for services large numbers of students can actually benefit from.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore. She is the editor of Spectator's blog, Spectrum.
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