- by Barbara J. King
“On Sunday, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, a professor currently on leave from the University of New Mexico with a visiting position at New York University, tweeted a comment that sent shock waves through academia and beyond:
Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth
Later that same day, Miller deleted the tweet. But screen-captures like this one were already let loose, and the tweet soared through cyberspace. Then Miller tweeted “sincere apologies,” noting first that the “idiotic, impulsive, and badly judged tweet does not reflect my true views, values, or standards” and then adding “Obviously my previous tweet does not represent the selection policies of any university, or my own selection criteria.”
The double “sorry” messages have not slowed the resulting firestorm, which has propelled Miller into national prominence as a fat-shaming professor. Media outlets as varied as Inside Higher Ed, The Atlantic, New York Magazine and Jezebel have covered the story.
I sent an email message to Miller on Monday, asking if he would like to make any statement for 13.7; he did not reply.
Why has the response to Miller’s tweet been so powerful and so biting? I can think of at least three reasons.
Fat-shaming is all too pervasive.
I asked Rebecca Puhl of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity to contextualize Miller’s denigration of obese people. In an email message sent on Monday, Puhl noted that weight bias is widespread and socially acceptable in our culture:
Our research with national samples of thousands of Americans shows that reports of weight discrimination have increased by 66 percent in the past decade, and are now on par with rates of racial discrimination – especially for women.
On weight bias in higher education specifically, Puhl described two research studies published this year. The first study by Jacob M. Burmeister et al., Puhl summarized in this way:
The researchers examined 97 applicants to a graduate program in psychology at a large university. The applicants reported their height, weight, and provided information about their applications to psychology graduate programs. Researchers then analyzed and coded their letters of recommendation for positive and negative statements as well as overall quality.
It was found that applicants with a higher body weight had significantly fewer post-interview offers of admission into graduate programs, especially for female applicants, even though their body weight was not related to the overall quality of their letters of recommendation. Of notable interest is that those with a higher body weight actually had more positive adjectives in their letters of recommendation.
Once qualified overweight candidates were viewed in person, in other words, their chances of admission tanked (read more).
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