Students Sign Petition to Change P.E. Requirement

As freshmen flood campus and Orientation Week begins in earnest, the chaos of settling in — buying things, losing things, picking classes — also includes finding a way to satisfy the physical education requirement.

Though not an entirely common practice amongst colleges, Swarthmore is part of a group that imposes a physical education requirement which its students need to complete for graduation. The requirement amounts to four credits that need to be completed over the first two years of college.

In the eyes of Elena Schlessinger ’15 and a growing group of signees, however, this asks too much.  Schlessinger, an english major, has recently come up with a petition titled “Petition to Develop Alternative Options to the Four-Credit Physical Education Requirement” to reform the college’s physical education requirements.

According to the petition, her reason for proposing changes to the system is, “The PE requirement largely overlooks athletic students who do not participate in the Swarthmore athletic department.” The petition adds, “There are many students who do not participate in the school’s athletic programming but do observe strict or semi-strict physical exercise routines and there is no physical education class, including Fitness Training, that appropriately replaces many individual exercise routines.”

It was Schlessinger’s personal experience as a freshman last year that sparked off the idea for this petition.

She settled for Fitness Training after being lotteried out of tennis and squash, but this was inconvenient. In her words, “My Fitness Training class was at 7:30 p.m. which was inconvenient because I had to stop what I was doing at a prescribed time to go to a silly class. It was really frustrating for me.”

Schlessinger doesn’t identify herself as a lazy student with a disinclination for completing the PE requirement. She justifies her stance on the petition by saying, “I’m extremely dedicated to my fitness, I work out every day; I just like to do it on my own schedule.”

Through the petition, she hopes to bring about a more flexible system of completing the requirement so that other students don’t suffer the inconvenience she encountered last year and may have to continue to suffering in order to complete her PE requirement in her sophomore year.

Of the many changes put forward in the petition, the most prominent is the demand for having an independent study option to allow for a more flexible schedule for students and the introduction of programs like Couch to 5K, Insanity Workouts and P90X workouts.

To the potential argument that independent study doesn’t allow for supervision or monitoring by the college makes, Schlessinger retorts that there was barely any supervision when she took Fitness Training last year and so there would not be a big difference from the present system.

The existence of intramural club sports that offer PE credit and dance classes like salsa and tango, which are popular options for PE, are not considered rigorous enough by Schlessinger, who feels, “To the administration’s credit, these are awesome options for people who don’t already have an exercise routine but for people who already work out that’s silly. Salsa dancing is not a good substitute for my physical fitness training.”

While she acknowledges that this isn’t a big issue for most of the student body, she is convinced that there are others who feel the same as her. Judging by the number of signatures the petition has collected to date, 35 students share her sentiments about bringing a change to the system.

The biggest peeve for Schlessinger and others is the fixed timing of many activities, especially for fitness training. Josh Hallquist ’14, a supporter of the petition, commented online, “The time issue is the biggest to me. Few people work out at exactly the same time daily, and for a college student, even a 3x a week commitment to the same time can be an issue. I think the individualized timing alternative makes more sense.”

PE Coordinator and Women’s Volleyball Coach Harleigh Chwastyk responded to the creation of the petition by revealing, “Our department did an internal/external review a year and a half ago and is currently in the process of trying to follow through on all the information collected and acting upon it. We are assessing our curriculum and we know that we need changes.”

However, she is noncommittal about implementing the changes proposed by the petition. She said, “PE is not about meeting your personal workout requirements. It’s about allowing for regular activities that help with health and wellness.”

Chwastyk, who has been in charge of the PE Department for eight years, noted that the petition is not the first of its kind that she’s come across in her time at Swarthmore and said, “The mission of our department is trying to meet the needs of every student and trying to do right by the student body.” She added, “We’re excited about receiving student input and while some of the petitioned changes are implementable, others are not because the PE Department is structured like an academic department,” implying that the PE Department cannot be as flexible as the petitioners would like it to be.

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