Wellness Revolution

Spelman College and Beverly Daniel Tatum

For Bevery Daniel Tatum, epiphany came at a basketball game. Cheering on the Jaguars, the president of Spelman College realized that few, if any, of the players on the court would continue to play after college. Money was being spent on a select group of athletes to be fit, but only temporarily.

Tatum already faced a quandary. Three schools were leaving Spelman’s athletic conference, the Great South Athletic Conference, meaning the historic Atlanta women’s college would have to join another
to remain in the NCAA. Tatum and her administration questioned the benefit of adding new travel costs to a program that already ran close to $1
million annually and involved less than 4 percent of the student body.

So she took a drastic step. In November 2012, Tatum publicly announced that Spelman would discontinue NCAA athletics and reallocate the budget to a Wellness Revolution program and gym upgrades that would help all 2,100 students.

Recognizing that Spelman’s African American female students represent a population at risk for diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, Tatum wanted to help instill lifelong habits. “In the same way we should develop habits of the mind, we should develop healthy habits of the body,” she says.

“Wellness Revolution” may sound like a PR catchphrase, but it touches the heart of Spelman’s legacy, says Tatum. The college began by teaching freed female slaves to read—a skill its alumnae then spread across the South. It enabled, says Tatum, a literacy revolution. “In the same way that learning to read became viral, learning to exercise can be viral,” she says.

This article originally appeared in out November 2013 issue.