It’s time to blame desks rather than our bodies

Plus-size students face a lack of size-inclusive desks, threatening their well-being.


As a so-called chronically overweight USC graduate student, my main concern on campus is not figuring out how to get to class on time, nor is it the pressure of making friends in class. It is praying to find a seat that I can fit in or comfortably maneuver around without bothering fellow classmates with my huffing and puffing. 

Then comes the whispered apologies to the people sitting around me as I work my way down the aisle to the sole empty seat that hopefully does not squeak and squawk. Unfortunately, the seats at USC are not very forgiving.

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Have you ever fought your way into a wetsuit or put on a pair of old jeans from middle school? This sensation of squeezing your body every which way may only happen on a rare occasion for others, but this has been my entire existence. 

But, as one of the only plus-size students in the room, I already draw enough attention with my existence alone without the constant fidgeting to adjust in the chairs. I don’t look like my classmates, I don’t act like them and apparently, I don’t sit like them, either. I am constantly, almost obsessively, aware that I do not fit in with my colleagues, and I do not need a desk to remind me of that as well.

It is not just about the anxiety and shame that comes with squeezing into the hard, metallic desks, it is also the physical pain. According to “The Fat Studies Reader,” “The hard materials and unforgiving shapes of these desks punish student bodies that exceed their boundaries with pain and social shame.” 

Students may become so distracted from the pain of sitting in ill-fitting desks or ashamed at their inability to fit properly that they are no longer able to concentrate on the lectures and discussions around them. They lose precious time hyperfocused on their weight and body that could instead be used to further their education.

One would hope a world-renowned private university known for its supposed dedication to diversity, equity and inclusion would spend some of its expensive tuition on renovating classrooms to be more universally accessible and size-inclusive. Instead, the concerns and well-being of plus-size students go unaddressed.

Additionally, an article from the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education addresses this absence of size inclusivity, explaining how “negative experiences with physical spaces on college campuses that make no accommodation for size have the potential to ‘create or reinforce feelings of fat stigma’ which may result … in self-blame, withdrawal, and invisibility.” 

If USC keeps desks that reinforce weight stigma but identifies well-being as one of their unifying values, are they truly invested in the well-being of their Trojan students?

Plus-size bodies are rarely considered when discussing accessibility, thus pushing the blame of not fitting in onto the students rather than the widely used classroom furniture designs. To begin rectifying this situation, USC should consider investing in universally designed desks and chairs that are inclusive of all body types, such as seating without armrests or chairs without desks attached. Invest in size inclusivity, because it’s time to blame the desks rather than our bodies.

Kathleen Rodriguez Makepeace

Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

Class of 2025

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