Physical education swim requirement dropped, new wellness options added

The Class of 2026 will return to pre-COVID graduation requirement of three PE or wellness credits.

by Lauren Azrin | 9/20/22 5:05am

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by Oliver De Jonghe / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

After temporarily suspending the 50-yard swim test requirement for previous classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the College eliminated the 50-yard swim test for all students beginning with the Class of 2026, according to senior associate athletic director for physical education and recreation Joann Brislin. Starting with the Class of 2026, students will once again be required to complete three PE credits for graduation — though there will be new wellness offerings that can be used to fulfill this requirement, according to Brislin.

Due to COVID-19, the College waived all PE requirements for the Class of 2023 and lowered the number of required PE credits to one for the Class of 2024 and two for the Class of 2025, according to Dartmouth’s PE program website.

“Fortunately, we are operating at full force now so for those graduating after spring of ’25, [so] the requirement is the typical three credits,” Brislin said. “We’re back to normal. We’re back to what had always been expected prior to COVID.”

The swim test was eliminated through multiple faculty committee votes and a final vote by the College’s entire faculty, Brislin said. 

Patrick Dolph, a biology professor and chair of the Committee on Instruction at the time the proposal was made, explained that the swim test was implemented over a century ago to ensure that Dartmouth students — then all male — were prepared for military service. The requirement disproportionately impacted students of color. 

“It did not test swimming competency or provide increased water safety for students while at Dartmouth or after graduation,” Dolph wrote in an email statement. “In past years, a small number of students with limited swimming skills were required to take beginning swimming to pass the swim test. These were overwhelmingly students of color, and this essentially added an additional graduation requirement for these individuals.”

Neuroscience professor and current chair of the COI Tor Wager explained that the elimination of the swim test is consistent with the College’s mission to grant students freedom of choice. Wager added that the COI did not intend to devalue the importance of being able to swim, but rather give students more agency in fulfilling PE or wellness requirements. 

Another change implemented this year is the opportunity to earn PE credits through wellness courses. This will expand this list of existing ways to fulfill a PE credit, which currently includes varsity sports, club sports and dance groups, in addition to a range of various fitness classes and outdoor programs, according to Brislin.

Student Wellness Center director Caitlin Barthelmes said that the PE graduation credit will eventually become the “wellness education credit.”

“There’s kind of this recognition that there will be a transitional phase, both for the calling of it as a wellness education credit, as well as building out the infrastructure and expanding the offerings,” she said. “At least for this year, we’re referring to things as PE/Wellness education.” 

With this shift, students can now fulfill these graduation requirements “through an array of courses, minicourses, workshops, and single-session classes offered by units across campus including the Student Wellness Center,” Dolph wrote in an email statement. Barthelmes added that the PE department has been collaborating with the Student Wellness Center on these changes.

These additional wellness offerings will also change how credits for the graduation requirement can be earned, Barthelmes noted. While some classes will bear one credit per course, some new wellness options will give partial credit, with 12 wellness activities accumulating to earn one credit. Examples of these activities include yoga classes, mindfulness classes and wellness check-ins.

The Student Wellness Center published a sampler on its website that Barthelmes said will allow students to “choose their own adventure,” and mix and match experiences to earn credit. Barthelmes noted that another advantage is students can try out new wellness techniques.

“This gives students the freedom to reflect on what’s working for them and what’s not working for them and pivot to find a practice that might serve them better,” Barthelmes said.

Barthelmes added that the “ultimate plan” is to have a committee that can review proposals from additional departments besides the SWC to offer their own courses or workshops capable of fulfilling the wellness education credit. 

Dartmouth triathlon team member Molly Fried ’25 said she appreciated these expanded options, specifically the mindfulness offerings.

“I think that mindfulness is a really important way to get people involved with the idea that you can actively approach a better state of wellbeing through mental health,” Fried said. “I have found a lot of mental health relief through athleticism and in club sports, which are how I completed my PE requirements. But I also totally understand how that’s not the case for everyone, so I do really appreciate these other options as well.”

Barthelmes and Wager noted that the expanded options in earning wellness credits reflects a shift years in the making to broaden the definition of health on campus beyond athletics.

“We had been hearing for several years that students would like [the] graduation requirement to reflect the reality of the fact that there are a variety of ways to support wellbeing, of which, of course, physical health is critical, but that there are other dimensions as well,” Barthelmes said. “To have that philosophically represented in the requirement was something that was important for students.”

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