February 20, 2022

DERY | Gains, Both Physical and Academic: Cornell Should Offer Credit for Regular Exercise

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My commitment to the gym on campus has remained more or less the same across semesters. Over every break, I build a gym routine for the next semester, equipped with the hundred-plus dollar annual Cornell Fitness Center membership. Within two weeks, I’ll encourage my friends to join me at Teagle Hall. As I sip my protein shake, I’ll respond “college is temporary, gym gains are forever” when they tell me they’re too busy with work. Most often, these “gym gains” only last another week; I hit peak fitness around week three, and it all goes downhill from there. At best, I return to the gym sporadically for the rest of the semester, carving time in between prelim waves. Otherwise, I don’t see the inside of a gym until the following break, when the cycle repeats. 

A routine gym schedule and healthy eating during those first three weeks of the semester make schoolwork much more bearable and keep stress at a low. Not coincidentally, the harshest, most stressful part of the semester comes when the gym has been long-removed from my day-to-day. Though building another gym on North campus is helpful, Cornell leaves its students to their devices in the fight to make time for the gym. The fact that Cornell charges for fitness centers communicates that they believe exercise is extra, not necessary, to combat mental health issues and support sustainable student lifestyles on campus.

The Cornell Fitness Center membership fee has long stood as a monetary barrier for students to go to the gym at Cornell. As others have voiced before me, campus gyms should be free to students here on campus, as they are at many other institutions. But I think this is only part of the solution. Equally important is to remove the notion that schoolwork is a reasonable excuse to avoid exercise altogether. 

They say that if you can’t beat them, join them: So let’s integrate the gym into school. Or perhaps, school into the gym. Cornell should offer academic credit for students who regularly exercise at campus fitness facilities throughout the semester. 

Just one single-credit, S/U class would suffice – one that could be dropped anytime. It doesn’t even have to count towards academic standing. Offering a single academic credit is a tangible reward for gym-goers – an extra “gold star” on their transcript. This is far from suggesting that academic credit should become a primary motivator for fitness. Rather, it’s just a small catalyst. It provides students who otherwise do not exercise due to school with a Catch-22: there is no excuse when working out becomes a version of schoolwork. 

This fitness credit offering should supplement, not replace, the current Physical Education course requirements at Cornell. Though a P.E. course in weightlifting is still a suitable option for those seeking to pay for formal training, this alternative would offer an opportunity to gain credit without having to commit to hours that may conflict with student schedules. 

Formal P.E. classes may also be intimidating to new gym-goers. Providing room for independent workouts and alternate ways to meet gym buddies through socials may further ease any jitters. Naturally, these reforms would require additional gym facilities and more college student-friendly hours. I shouldn’t have to walk from my room in Collegetown to Morrison Hall in sub-freezing temperatures if I want to work out past 7 p.m.

Perhaps the largest obstacle to such a program is the difficulty determining a student’s performance at the gym as “satisfactory” over the course of a semester. But let’s not bore ourselves with the practicalities of such an endeavor for now. Solutions are available, from implementing a system where students “scan into” the equipment they use to setting workout requirements for students on a case-by-case basis. 

The bottom line is that if we concern ourselves too much with the possibility that some students will bumble about the facilities or believe that the occasional engineer will bring their problem set to the gym, we risk missing the essence of the initiative altogether. As long as we regularly exercise in some shape or form, even if only to escape the four walls of our rooms, we will have already made strides well worth a harmless credit.

Roei Dery ’23 (he/him) is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] His column, The Dery Bar, runs every other Monday this semester.