A Physical High from Epsilon Chi

| Written by Andre DP Encarnacion

For those looking to get fit and to sweat it out in Quezon City, there are few destinations more scenic or iconic than the UP Diliman campus.

Every day, thousands of people visit the 493-hectare campus, many with physical fitness in mind. Campus landmarks such as the Academic Oval, the National Science Complex and the Sunken Garden, among many others, have become go-to destinations for everyone from hardened athletes to beginners carrying out their very first exercise routines.

Truly, very few other places in the Metro offer fitness opportunities that are quite as scenic, safe and open as the UP System’s flagship campus.

This fact, when combined with the respectable annual showings of UP’s varsity athletes, might lead one to think that fitness is no serious concern for UP’s students in general. This, however, is not necessarily the case, as Dr. Shirley Villosillo-Guevarra, officer-in-charge of the UP Office of Student Housing (OSH) indicates—especially for the University’s beloved dormers.

A faculty member from the UP College of Home Economics (CHE) and a proponent of “holistic human development,” Guevarra notes that even the healthful atmosphere in UP has not prevented some dormers from dropping out or falling prey to various lifestyle and mental illnesses. While these cases have many causes, experts like Guevarra have been increasingly concerned by the stresses students face when meeting high-pressure academic requirements, as well as the attendant sedentary habits and isolation that can afflict dormers in particular.

It was with great pride and excitement, therefore, that Guevarra and other officials welcomed the decision of the UP Epsilon Chi Fraternity under the leadership of Governer Radian Eugene Ong to donate a legacy project in celebration of the fraternity’s 50th anniversary in 2014. The result of that decision is the Epsilon Chi Health and Fitness Center, which had its groundbreaking ceremony at the Molave Residence Hall on October 2014, and is expected to open its doors to the UP community in early 2018.

According to Guevarra, the decision to donate a Health and Fitness Center stems from the desire of both the fraternity and the UP administration to provide a “holistic environment for the dormers,” and, by extension, the rest of the UP community. It is also envisioned to be a convergence center, drawing people from around the campus and the city in the pursuit of health and community.

The donation of a health and fitness center, while not always intuitive, is a very important one, primarily for its unique attributes. “There had already been a good number of scholarship grants given to the students by our alumni,” Guevarra says. Epsilon Chi, however, wanted something different. With a good number of them being dormers in the past, the members of the fraternity, Guevarra says, wanted to specifically provide a facility to improve the health of present and future dormers.

As opposed to a single scholarship fund, Guevarra said the construction of the facility would provide a “bigger and greater impact” on the UP community that surrounds it. “If you have a facility, it is there and will be there (virtually) forever, if you maintain it well.”

And that, indeed, is the plan. First, the Health and Fitness Center will improve existing facilities within Molave, in particular the basketball court. The newly refurbished and now-covered court not only can host basketball games, but can be convertedfor other sports, such as badminton or table tennis. One of the most anticipated features is the addition of a mezzanine containing a gym, with exercise equipment and spaces donated by Epsilon Chi.

UPD Chancellor Michael L. Tan and Epsilon Chi Fraternity Radian Governor Eugene G. Ong (sitting, left to right), together with OSH officer-in-charge Dr. Shirley V. Guevarra, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Neil R. Santillan, Engr. Manuel H. Torres and Engr. Roberto C. Ronquillo (standing, left to right), during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Epsilon Chi health and fitness center in UP Diliman, held October 2, 2015, taken from an article written by Haidee C. Pineda, with photo by Leonardo A. Reyes, UP Diliman Information Office. (Photo from the UP Diliman website, http://upd.edu.ph/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/DSC_0452.jpg)

In addition, ancillary spaces and facilities are also being constructed. Bleachers were designed, as well as toilets and shower rooms for players and guests to use. Lastly, some stalls are planned from which the place can generate additional rent income, apart from the small fees that will be charged to outsiders for facility use. The income generated will go into a fund that will be used to pay the center’s future staff and repairs, helping to make it self-sufficient.

Guevarra says that there are no plans for the outright commercialization of the center and its services—just enough “to generate funding for maintenance of the place.” The center is planned to be free of charge for all UP dormers. Ultimately, for Guevarra, what the center will provide beyond the benefits of health is a sense of community and a clear reflection of what UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan calls “Pride of Place” and “Pride in People.” It is a tangible manifestation, for one, of the will of the UP alumni to give back and “to provide a healthy and holistic place for UP dormers and the community, as well”.

“In the CHE, we go for what we call holistic development of people, of Filipino families,” notes Guevarra. “The residence halls are considered homes—second homes of students, so we need to address their needs from multiple dimensions and aspects. These are not just dormitories, where you eat and sleep. There are communities here. That’s why we welcomed this beautiful project. It’s aligned with the OSH’s aim to provide a nurturing environment, encompassing not only psychological, but physical and social aspects as well.”

Like Guevarra, UP Diliman Office of the Campus Architect (OCA) Director Enrico B. Tabafunda views the project as a success—particularly as it is the first major alumni donation from Chancellor Tan’s first term.

Tabafunda points out that one major advantage of the Health and Fitness Center is that it will give students access to equipment and facilities that they might otherwise have to travel a considerable distance to utilize.

Studies show that closing the distance between students and opportunities for exercise may make a large difference in their capacity and willingness to get fit. A 2005 study of American university students by Julian Reed and D. Allen Phillips found that students exercised more and longer the nearer they were to exercise facilities.

As a personal display of “Pride in People” and since private funds were being used for the project, Tabafunda had one request—to have a UP architect design the Center, in order to highlight both pride and familiarity with the place, as well as the quality of the UP College of Architecture’s training.

Luckily, Governor Eugene Ong took his request seriously and got in touch with UP alumna and Miss Universe 2011 3rd-runner up Arch. Shamcey Supsup-Lee, who agreed to do the design for free. “She really is the architect-of-record in this project,” Tabafunda says proudly.

Email the author at upforum@up.edu.ph.