Mixed Responses to Stricter Enforcement of PE Requirement

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

PE requirements have recently become significant in students’ consideration of course loads. Beginning with the class of 2011, all rising-juniors that have not completed four PE credits by the end of sophomore year will not receive a junior housing number. Instead, they will pick into living arrangements with a number from the class below, decreasing their likelihood of having the most desirable housing.

Many students have held the impression that the PE requirement was changed from having to be completed by the end of senior year, to that of sophomore year. This, however, is false. It is explicitly stated in Swarthmore Course Catalog that, “As a requirement for graduation, all students, not excused for medical reasons, are required to complete 4 units of physical education by the end of their sophomore year.”

Dean Garikai Campbell, who spearheaded the venture, says that the measures have been taken to ensure the requirement is taken seriously. “There hasn’t been a change in policy,” he said.

“Currently there are 75 seniors not meeting the PE Requirement,” he continued. “This places too much burden on the athletic department. And what if something were to happen? Should people with injury be given a waiver? They’ve had four years to complete this requirement.”

Swarthmore students have mixed feelings about the new policy.

“I think it will help them so that they won’t be in a hurry their senior year in regards to PE,” commented Lorenzo Ramirez ’10.

Mary Prager ’11 felt that the change might be a little harsh. “I live in ML now as a freshman, and I don’t want to live in ML again. I think the punishment might be a little harsh. I find it frustrating trying to fit a PE class into my schedule, though I understand reasons for the policy change.”

Senior Rahul D’Silva was equally opposed. “I think the change is unwise and unnecessary. If the administration wishes to reduce the stress put on the Athletic Department, seniors who have waited until the very last minute—granted they are lotteried out of their PE classes—should have to take a class at another school or be forced to delay their graduation. The rule is explicitly stated; that’s enough.”

As to those who wish to change the requirement’s deadline from the sophomore year, Campbell noted that he could not immediately implement new policy. “I don’t have the authority to change the policy,” Campbell said. New policy would have to be first consulted with the administration, faculty, Athletic Department, and students.

The PE Department has a large range of sports activities and dance classes from which to choose. That is to say, you don’t have to repeat high school gym class to get your four credits out of the way. Yoga and table tennis are great sweatless alternatives.

The college website includes a full list of PE course offerings.


  1. 0
    AQ says:

    I agree with Je. It’s not about “character building”, it’s about living well. Complete focus on developing the intellect at the expense of the body is not healthy. It’s hard to integrate physical activity into many kinds of adult life, and college should train us to find time to fit it in.

    I disagree with the idea that physical activity is contrary to working for social justice, and the habits of many committed activists confirm this.

  2. 0
    Je. says:

    The arguments against the PE Requirement claim that “forcing anyone to do anything never achieved anything” and “we should be able to clock our own time in at the gym.” They are completely bogus. Forcing people to do things is the whole idea when it comes to higher education.

    Sure, I enjoy reading things for my various classes. But do I like writing papers about them? Of course not. Would I write them if I “wasn’t forced too?” Of course not. But do I think they are worth it? Of course; it develops my writing skills and intellect.

    Same thing with the PE requirement. You have to do something to stay in touch with your body, keeping the consciousness/selfhood aware of its totality. It doesn’t matter if you get good exercise or “push yourself;” in bowling, you’re still trying to consciously do something with your body.

    Sure, staying in the library all day and reading books for class with develop the intellect. But maintaining a connection with the body is equally important, especially in things like being a person. PE should stay.

  3. 0
    R. says:

    for serious– the PE business doesn’t make sense to me. I agree with Anonymous above: if the requirement is actually about us exercising, we should be able to clock in and out of the gym on our own time. if that’s too tricky for the admistration to keep track of, cut the requirement, or at least trim it down: require one or two units of PE, not four.

    and Simon’s point is total BS: Swarthmore already gives me a LOT of practice at enduring “things I don’t like”. Character building is no reason to assign more wastes of time.

  4. 0
    MW ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    It’s funny how Swarthmore is supposedly a school where everyone is so concerned about “THE REAL WORLD” and fixing all the problems “OUT THERE” and *crusading for justice!* and yet they choose to focus energy on EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE like this. It’s fairly ridiculous.

  5. 0
    Chris Green says:

    It’s no hardship to complete 4 PE credits in 4 years. There are plenty of PE classes offered plenty of times, some, such as dance classes like Folk Dance and Swing, which meet in the evening and so are not during typical academic slots.

    PE as a requirement makes sense; it pushes us to have a varied lifestyle, just like distribution requirements push us to have a varied academic plate. They are not gruelling if you don’t want them to be, but they turn you to a direction you might not normally go. Are we primarily here for academics? Sure! But we all also do dozens of other things. No reason that PE can’t be one of them.

    All that being said, PE should not have to be completed by end of sophomore year. If students don’t plan and and have to wait to graduate, that’s their fault; but there is no reason to squeeze the entire requirement into the first four semesters (I found it especially nice not to take ane PE first semester and just explore what Swat was all about).

    So… PE, yes. but give us back 4 years to complete it.

  6. 0
    JFK says:

    Yep– current sophomores are exempt from this policy– and Miles, you just expressed my thoughts much more accurately than I could while proofing pages on deadline (this is kind-of scandalous fraternizing between publications, isn’t it?… =oP ) …

  7. 0
    Miles Skorpen ( User Karma: 6 ) says:

    I don’t think Jack was arguing that the PE requirement is longer, but why do we have requirements for when to finish the PE requirement and not for when to finish the writing requirement or distribution requirements?

  8. 0
    S says:

    I love my PE classes and personally believe the requirement may not be strict enough. I don’t believe the school requires PE as a way to create a campus of buff marathon runners. However, PE is a great way to spend some time not thinking about Academics, which is necessary to prevent stress and insanity. It’s also an important part of a well-rounded education and a well-rounded lifestyle. I support their decision to enforce the PE requirement. If you stop complaining and go complete your PE, you won’t have to live in ML again.

    And JFK: The PE requirement is not more than the writing requirement or the other distribution requirements. 4 units of PE are the equivalent of 2 one semester courses.

  9. 0
    Simon says:

    What bothers me is that I’m not entirely sure _why_ we have a gym requirement. Is it to promote healthy and active students, or is it purely a policy issue that has to do with the College’s image?

    If it’s the former, I think it’s safe to say that the gym requirement falls rather short of achieving its goal. If it’s the latter, then as far as students are concerned it seems like we just need to bite the bullet and be able to manage it into our schedules. Regarding the complaint that we are here to concentrate on our academics, I agree. But I also think that we’re here to learn to become responsible, multifaceted individuals who know how to manage and deal with the countless aspects that the ‘real world’ will eventually ask of us. In short, it’s a learning process: we’re bound to have to deal with things we don’t like in the future, so we should learn to deal with them now. For all you know you may end up working in Europe and other part of the word, where stores and pharmacies actually _close_ shop from time to time (i.e. lunch, dinner, sleep, you know, that kinda stuff), let alone gym times…

    But back to the idea that the requirement is there to ‘force’ students to achieve healthy bodies, well, I just don’t see how a gym class will really put you into shape if it doesn’t reflect a decent diet. If the College wants us to stay healthy, it should have a nutrition class requirement as well (and God forbid that happens.) And while I can easily consider Yoga as part of a healthy person’s schedule, the fact is that it doesn’t matter what you do (table tennis or being on a team) if you don’t put effort into it. I can take a tennis class for the gym requirement, but if I don’t push myself playing tennis, then what am I achieving? Going to the courts to chit-chat with my friends? Is having a gym requirement really going to achieve anything?

    I’m all for promoting healthy, active students. I just don’t think forcing anyone to do anything ever achieved…anything. Our best bet is to educate people to want to be active, so that they do it on their own account. If they still choose to do it anyway, that’s their decision.

    As the old Latin adage goes, “Mens sana in corpore sano.”

    Just my two cents…

  10. 0
    JFK says:

    I still don’t really understand why the PE requirement is more important than: (1) the Writing requirement, (2) the NSEP requirement or (3) all three distributional requirements … ??? … You could probably use the same “what if some people don’t graduate?!?” argument for those three categories as well– or, for that matter, one’s major requirements. I’d really like an explanation of why PE is unique in this regard?

    (Also, I’ve heard rumors of hyperaccelerated PE sessions during senior week for those who f–ed up, are those true?)

  11. 0
    Anonymous says:

    I feel the PE requirement is paternalistic. I am uncoordinated and unathletic, and though I’ve tried taking yoga and dance classes, I was getting corrected by the instructors constantly and it was embarrassing. I would prefer to be focusing on academics; it’s why I came to Swarthmore. When I need exercise I ride my bike or go walking in the crum. I thought the administration trusted us to take care of ourselves, and for me, choosing or choosing not to do a physical activity and when and where is a personal decision. Since we’re admitting that there are “sweatless alternatives,” how is this really helping to ensure that students get exercise? More importantly, how is it helping students to be motivated to exercise for their own benefit throughout life and not resent it as a forced obligation? None of my friends at similar colleges are required to take PE. If it’s putting a strain on the athletic department, here’s and idea: drop the requirement!

  12. 0
    Anonymous says:

    We should be able to take gym when we want, that is, it should never be a priority in scheduling our academics. For example, if we sign up for fitness training, we should be able to go to the gym whenever we can, not during a specific time. Or we should get credit for time spent at an OUTSIDE GYM, WHERE WE CAN GO AT LEISURE OF OUR SCHEDULES. Our first priority is ACADEMICS, we shouldn’t be expected to wrangle with gym hours!!!

  13. 0
    anon. ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I don’t think the PE requirement is bad, but it’s not right to penalize people housing-wise for something that doesn’t really relate to housing.

    I was never aware of the actual requirement (that the PE credits be completed by the end of sophomore year). It was never mentioned during orientation or anything. Maybe they should just emphasize this more if they are so worried about people getting it done “in a timely manner.” (What’s wrong with spreading it out over 4 years? Who cares?)

  14. 0
    Daniel ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This requirement may be obsolete for some people by the time they reach Swarthmore, but overall I think that it fits in nicely with a well-rounded education. In addition to the fact that the average American is getting unhealthily larger (though our large portion of international students tends to counter-balance this), the requirement also helps to instill healthier habits in people who could use it to live a better lifestyle.

    However, my biggest gripe is getting shunted out of PE courses. With such a large variety of courses, I thought that it would be a breeze to get my requirement done. I was sorely wrong on this count. Because I was away this semester, I was unable to pre-register for anything. I have only a few courses which fit into my schedule, and I was unable to get a spot in the table tennis class, which only offers 8 slots this year. I’m personally trying to deal with my mixed feelings towards the program, and though having already completed 2 requirements already, 2 more seems like a towering burden as I approach my second semester of my sophomore year.

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