Laster: Sink or Swim?

Dartmouth's decision to cut the swim and dive team harms both its students and its image.

by Susannah Laster | 8/7/20 2:10am

As a member of the Dartmouth swimming and diving team, it is hard to put into words how incredibly upsetting it was to hear of the administration's decision to cut the team. It is clear that the current Dartmouth administration has completely neglected its primary responsibility — Dartmouth students — in its attempt at total reorganization and overhaul. 

Dartmouth’s sponsorship of a plethora of varsity sports adds a unique experience to the school, just like the amazing arts programs, scores of acapella groups, thriving outing club, breathtaking international programs and premier academia. As such, the elimination of the swim and dive team is a careless decision that will greatly reduce the Dartmouth experience for those affected and jeopardizes Dartmouth's appeal. 

The disregard for the students affected was evident from the beginning when members of the team received a nondescript email with the subject line, "Dartmouth Athletics Update" — sent only 45 minutes before the 15 minute announcement call. The Zoom was impersonal and evidently pre-written. The message was clear: Dartmouth is a place for academics only. It seemed that all the other reasons students choose Dartmouth — be it to engage in outdoor exploration, do research or play musical instruments — were irrelevant. 

My Dartmouth experience has been positively shaped through my experiences on the swim team. By exercising my talents as a leader, teammate, hard worker, confidant and advocate as a member of the swim team, I have become a more confident speaker in class, an engaged group member and an assured and mature human being. Swimming has taught me to persevere and to tap into my tenacity when things get really tough — a lesson that has served me well in my academic pursuits. Working towards academic achievement while spending 20 hours a week in the pool striving for athletic success has pushed me to become the most outstanding version of myself in multiple disciplines. On the swim and dive team, I get to experience Dartmouth with a group of hugely successful and diverse students who pour their blood, sweat and tears into a sport that rewards us only once or twice a year. The reward for me is not in the results at the end of the season, but in the relationships you can only find through pushing the limits of possible human physical efforts. This decision is gutting to me because swimming is not just a sport to me: swimming cultivates greatness in every area of my life. 

Apart from my own personal experiences, Dartmouth's decision to cut the swim and dive team stands to negatively impact the College's appeal to future students and its standing among its peer schools. Dartmouth has a legacy to uphold in order to preserve its prestige among potential applicants and the competitive world of higher-education. By eliminating the swim and dive programs, the College has not only demonstrated its disregard for athletics, but for activities beyond academics that produce individuals of the highest caliber. Only four Division I schools — Boise State, East Carolina, and UConn — have cut their swim and dive programs in the last few months, citing budget issues. Dartmouth was the only school out of those four to cite admissions preferences as a reason for eliminating a varsity swim team. This decision will also make Dartmouth the only Ivy League institution without a swim and dive team. Two pools with new state-of-the-art starting blocks and a new scoreboard will sit unused by a Dartmouth varsity team. The standard college championship meet is raced over eight lanes — our lack of a presence will be made very clear when only seven teams walk up to the blocks. This should be an embarrassment to the College. It has become exceedingly clear where the priorities of the administration lie, and it is certainly not in maintaining our reputation as a high-level institution. 

Student-athletes are first and foremost students; that is why we chose to attend Dartmouth. A preference for more non-athletic admissions only serves to demonstrate the devaluation of every student’s contributions outside of academics. The Dartmouth administration needs to be reminded that, in order to maintain our national and global distinction, it must refocus its efforts on cultivating multidimensional human beings. 

Laster is a member of the Class of 2022 and a member of the Dartmouth swimming and diving team. 

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