The Final Hurdle: Making Gym Classes More Inclusive
By Donté Kydd-Richmond
Article originally published in The Plant's October 2020 Issue
Phys Ed can be the highlight of your day, or an easy alternative to more typical classes. But for some students, gym class can be more stressful than any math or history class. Often these students find such hardship in their gym classes for quite simple reasons; they are women, or LGBTQ+, or they struggle with difficult mental or physical conditions. And often, Phys Ed courses and their professors lack the sensitivity and empathy to improve the class for them.
Phys Ed courses are not free from the sexism embedded in our society. From the objectification and sexualization of women, to the dismissal of women’s skill and ability in sport, it is clear why for many women, Phys Ed can be at best uninteresting and at worst dreadful. Many gym classes require constant, active participation in order to receive a good grade. But how can you expect girls to feel motivated to participate when they are ogled by their peers (and often even their own teachers), while having their skills and potential constantly doubted?
Gym classes can also be dismissive of the plights faced by the LGBTQ+ community, especially transgender and non-binary people. Navigating everyday life is already difficult enough for many non-binary folks without these hardships extending into their gym classes. The setting tends to amplify the nagging dissatisfaction of gender dysphoria, particularly when students are forced to collaborate with people who are uncomfortable with gender fluidity.
Mental and physical disabilities can make typical everyday tasks extremely difficult. Often, this difficulty is misunderstood, underestimated and invalidated by the rest of the world. Phys Ed classes are no exception; often those who suffer from disabilities are met with no empathy or compassion from either peers or professors, and are forced into activities that can be uncomfortable or downright grueling.
While the matter at hand is tricky and there is no definitive way to treat it, sensitivity, empathy and a willingness to listen go a long way. Phys Ed courses, as well as any other class, program or activity, should always make it a point to encourage complete freedom of expression, and to actively listen to and learn from minority groups. To simply “tolerate” their presence, without taking the necessary steps to properly welcome and accept them as people, is not enough; we must foster open mindedness in not only these programs, but in our society as a whole. On a smaller level, we all can do our part as individuals by listening, speaking up, and making conscious decisions to be allies.