The Physical Education (PE) requirement and the consequences of not completing it have been the source of misinformation on Sarah Lawrence’s campus. The main rumor that has circulated the student body for several years is that a student can pay for the credit. A related speculation is that there is a fine for students who do not complete the credit. Not graduating or having to make up the PE credit during graduate school has also been perpetuated on this campus. But contrary to what we may have been told by tour guides or fellow students, the PE credit is neither New York state law nor will it affect your transcript in any way—at least for now.
Kristin Maile, director of athletics and physical education, explained the current reality of the PE credit: “[The] PE requirement has been around in some form since the very start of the College. When the College issued paper transcripts, the transcript was stamped by the Registrar’s office to indicate that the PE requirement was met. We were recently surprised to learn that this notation was lost with the shift to electronic transcripts.”
Maile explains that the error has been an ongoing conversation with the dean’s office for the past semester. In the coming spring semester, the PE department hopes that the situation will be rectified and that the online transcript will have a place for the completion or incompletion of the PE credit requirement.
Maile clarified the importance of the PE classes, beyond the PE credit requirement. She said, “[We] hope the positive consequence of the PE requirement is that every student will find a PE course that will turn into a life sport or skill that helps them realize and embrace the mind-body connection that John Dewey spoke about during the formative years of the College’s pedagogy.”
The PE requirement of four credits can be fulfilled in various ways. A student may take a PE class, which may be physical or discussion based, acquiring two credits for a semester or one credit for half of semester. Another option is that a student joins a sport; a semester sport allocates two credits to fulfilling the requirement. Students may also get credit if they are in certain theater classes or dance third programs. After obtaining one credit, a student may do independent study with the ActivTrax program. Students who play a sport or belong to a gym outside of the school can also request credit. Sophomore transfer student must complete two credits and junior and senior transfer students are exempt from the requirement altogether.
The PE department recommends that students complete two credits of their PE requirement by their first year.
Sarah Thal (’20) discussed her experience taking a PE course during her first semester. “It was a semester long yoga class for two credits. I enjoyed it. But I feel the PE credit is a bit silly, especially since you only need to take five classes out of six to receive the one credit and even though I suppose it's to promote healthy lifestyles,” Thal said. “ I feel as college students it's odd to have to have a PE credit when we also were required to have them in high school. At this point, being in college, I feel that one should be independent in their living, and not be required to fulfill a sort of ‘healthy living’ requirement.”
This sentiment of being treated as a high school student has been echoed from other students.
Jasper Soloff (’17), a student who regularly works out and is passionate about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, disagrees with the PE requirement. He said, “I believe that at this age we should be aware of the health benefits that working out and staying active have on our bodies and our mental states. I think it is a foolish decision on the school’s part to try to force students, who are adults—18 and older— to work out. We should be doing this anyway and if we are not doing it, it falls upon us and it shouldn't fall upon our transcripts and grades.”
Sarah Lawrence is not alone in its requirement of PE credits. Maile affirms that it is present in some form at other college institutions, including: Bryn Mawr College, Wellesley College, Columbia University and Cornell University.
Not all students have a negative view of the requisite. Some find the PE requirement beneficial, providing incentive and impetus to be more active in a structured way.
Lily Paradise (’19) said, “I've only taken one of my gym credits so far. It was a zumba class and I really enjoyed it. It doesn't take too much time out of my day and I always have a lot of fun when I'm there. It actually really helps me relieve stress just by being active for an hour and I find I feel a lot better afterwards.”
Whether the PE requirement will be enforced through transcripts by the end of this academic year is still unknown. Even so, the PE administration hopes that the student body will value physical education as part of their interdisciplinary academics.
Andrea Cantor ‘17