When I first arrived at UR in September, I noticed that something was missing. I realized that for all its athletic glory, UR does not have a mandatory gym class.

UR has not required Physical Education since 1974 and, even then, it was only for two years, and it did not count for credit. However, many schools still incorporate these programs into their curriculum. Columbia University has a mandatory two-year program and Cornell University requires one year and a swim test. Apparently, the fact that you traveled to Africa to help underprivileged children isn’t enough for some schools – you should also be able to do a decent breaststroke.

By college many students would agree that they have had enough of P.E. After all, it’s easy to think of gym class in a negative light. In elementary school, P.E. was the place where students were encouraged to foster competitive habits that lasted for the rest of their adult lives. Many have traumatic childhood memories of being picked last in kickball. In middle school, gym became more intense, as the friendly K-6 gym teachers were replaced with varsity-coach wannabes or incompetent social studies teachers. I had a gym teacher actually give me an essay quiz on the ethics of ultimate frisbee. In high school, the gym teacher was often doubled as a health teacher and so you were probably led to believe that there is some innate connection between volleyball and premarital sex.

As disconcerting as the thought of mandatory gym may be, at least one Cornell student is not bothered by it. Dan Powers, a freshman at Cornell, acknowledges that P.E. in college is different than high school gym.

“It’s a lot looser than it was in high school,” he said. “It’s a different setup.” Dan is in a class called Meditation and Mind, where students dress up in their P.E. finest in order to learn meditation and massage techniques.

“Most of the time I’m just sitting there and I have someone caressing my back,” Dan said.

It is probably for the best that we don’t have to go to gym as freshmen and sophomores. Most students simply do not have time to go to one extra class. One of the draws of UR is the fact that there are no required courses, and gym should not be an exception. Whether you want to focus solely on leisure studies or focus solely on leisure, UR allows you to choose for yourself. Subjecting students to gym while they are not forced to take calculus would not only be unfair to un-athletic math majors, it would be wrong on principle.

On the other hand, as Cornell’s P.E. program shows, a required gym course might not be as bad as it sounds. Students sometimes feel so inundated with work that they can’t get out to the gym as often as they would like. A P.E. program would put them on a consistent schedule of physical activity. Students who don’t want to push themselves physically could sign up for a stress-relieving course like Meditation and Mind. Also, a course that doesn’t count for credit would enable students to complete it worry-free.

Freedom for a student to choose his own course load is one of UR’s selling points. In the end, it’s up to the students to decide how much they want to work out, participate in athletics or move around at all.

Wrobel can be reached at bwrobel@campustimes.org.



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