In 2015, Duke stopped covering gym fees for students in the first five years of their PhD program. Because of rising health care premiums, the Graduate School decided it would no longer cover fees for students after their third year. This decision ended a commitment Duke had made to its students, and it needs to be reversed.
The Duke Graduate Students Union is calling on Duke to reinstate coverage of gym fees for doctoral students in the fourth and fifth years. We also ask that the University publicly confirm that it will cover these fees for the entire time a student is at Duke. Failing to provide access to gym facilities undermines Duke’s support for its graduate students, and is inconsistent with the University’s mission.
On Thursday, the union hosted free exercise classes on Abele Quad to raise awareness about the importance of gym access to grad student life. Regular exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. By requiring graduate students to pay for gym access out of pocket, the university has made it unnecessarily difficult for students to access a crucial resource for their health. Exercise is important not only for students’ physical health, but also for their mental and emotional well-being. Gym services are therefore crucial to the quality of life of students who teach and research for the University.
Reinstating coverage would benefit the entire University. A 2010 Harvard study “found that medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs.” Some academic departments have chosen to cover gym fees for their students, but not all departments can afford to do so. Departments should not have to choose between supporting their students’ health and funding their teaching and research.
Duke has an obligation to support the health of its graduate students. To fulfill this obligation, the university must ensure graduate students have access to services that will keep them healthy for their entire time at Duke.
Alex DeForge is a fourth-year PhD student in Philosophy and a member of the Duke Graduate Students Union Organizing Committee.