While Swarthmore purports to values our physical health, the dearth of recreational facilities makes it difficult for exercise to be a part of our daily lives. Swarthmore students who are not athletes should be allowed greater access to spaces that are often dominated by sports teams. Significant amounts of space in Ware Pool, and the fieldhouse, the Matchbox are often reserved for teams or P.E. classes, as the college requires that its students all complete four P.E. credits before graduating.
Too often, students attempting to exercise outside of these structured classes are forced to modify or cancel their workouts due to a lack of space. For instance, the dozens of students who play pick-up basketball nearly every day in the fieldhouse are often kicked off of the courts by varsity and club sports that have priority over the space. While other schools provide secondary gyms in order to avoid these conflicts, Swarthmore does not. Pick-up basketball players are often left with no option but to cease their exercise or to choose an alternative workout facility such as the Matchbox.
The Matchbox also suffers from overcrowding. It is not uncommon for the ground-level weight room to be at capacity on a Monday afternoon or for all of the treadmills to be taken on a Saturday morning, particularly since there are several treadmills that have been out of order for months. When varsity or club sports teams are at the Matchbox, space is in short supply.
Spaces for exercise and recreation are also valuable social spaces, as playing pick-up basketball or soccer games, running together, and other physical activities can be valuable ways to form bonds with other students outside of the stress and pressure of academics.
Given our $2.1 billion endowment and supposed commitment to students’ physical health and well-being, we shouldn’t be constrained by inadequate athletic spaces.
Unlike Swarthmore, our peer institutions are succeeding at providing exercise opportunities for non-varsity athletes. Williams College has a second recreational gym for students, while Middlebury College boasts recreational spaces for pick-up volleyball, basketball, and other cardio, as well as a state-of-the-art climbing wall.
Other liberal arts colleges are preparing to invest vast sums of money into providing more recreational athletic spaces. In December 2018, Pomona College, which already owns a pool and four grass fields for non-varsity athletes, announced plans for a $55 million expansion and renovation of the athletics and recreation center that it shares with Pitzer College. Although the design of the building has not yet been finalized, preliminary drawings show a larger recreational sports area. The initial plans include the doubling of studio space for fitness classes, the addition of a two-court practice gym, and the creation of a second weight room exclusively for non-athletes.
Lesley Irvine, Pomona’s athletic director and chair of physical education, stated that with the expansion of both the college’s varsity and recreational athletic programming over the past few years, the athletic department had “outgrown” the old fitness center.
Like Pomona, we have exceeded the capacity of our athletics facilities. This should come as no surprise. When the field house first opened in 1935, the college supported ten intercollegiate varsity teams. Since that time, we have more than doubled our varsity offerings and doubled our student body, yet we have only notably added athletic capacity through the construction of Tarble Pavilion, the Mullan Center, and the Matchbox. These buildings combine to house only five of our 22 varsity teams.
Regular exercise is a part of a healthy lifestyle for many people, and we acknowledge that ability to exercise is not a privilege afforded to all. Since Swarthmore does claim to care about the physical activity of students, we must establish a system that fulfills the college’s commitment to non-varsity recreation. We, The Phoenix, like the college, believe that exercise is important — for both our mental and physical health. But for students to be happy and healthy, we must supply ample recreational space for all — non-varsity and varsity athletes alike.