The physical education (PE) requirement at Wellesley College has been in place since the opening of the college in 1875. For several years now, the college has mandated that students acquire eight units of PE credit. This credit can be earned in several ways, either through the traditional method of taking PE classes or through alternative ways such as participation in varsity and club sports or other physically strenuous campus organizations.
Tom Wilson, the PE registrar, believes that the PE requirement should be necessary at every college in the country.
“In the sixties and seventies a lot of colleges and universities got rid of their PE requirements. . . I guess the goal [of the requirement] is that from day one at Wellesley College, physical activity is a part of the liberal arts education. And to cut it out would be a disservice to creating well rounded students and keeping students healthy.”
Notably, while there is a wide variety of PE courses that students may participate in, they cannot earn PE credit for their attendance in walk-in fitness classes or through participation in an intramural league. Wilson explains that this rule is in place because of the want for demonstrated instruction and improvement on the college’s part.
“There needs to be instruction, progressive instruction, so that where you end up isn’t where you started, and we can’t guarantee that that’s the case with walk in recreational fitness classes. We understand the value of them, but as a degree requirement we’re obligated to make sure that students learn. It’s a charge from the college, a year of instruction . . . we need to be able to guarantee that most of that is coming from instruction, ideally with our faculty.”
Some club sports earn more credit than others. Those organizations that are officially sanctioned by the Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics (PERA) can offer students four credits for their participation, while organizations not supported by PERA can only receive two. Wilson explains that this allotment has to do with the level of control that PERA can maintain over these club sports.
“The key difference between groups like Ultimate Frisbee and rugby and groups like Aiko is our input on who the coaches are. . . .It’s not that Aiko doesn’t have good instruction, it’s just that we don’t have input on who those coaches are. In fact, we’ve discussed off and on about the large student orgs that are not currently club sports, things like Wushu or Aiko. We’ve discussed off and on over the years possibly awarding them four credits, and that’s always on the table and always something that we’re looking at. It’s not the case right now, but it may be the case down the road.”
Some students who participate in club sports find the cap on earning credit to be difficult to get around. Maddie Taylor ’19, a member of an Ultimate Frisbee club on campus called the Wellesley Whiptails, feels as though her work on the team should be sufficient for the PE requirement.
“Wellesley requires you to complete 8 PE credits to graduate, but the max you can receive from playing Ultimate here is four, which I find frustrating. I wish I could receive all eight credits from being on the Whiptails. Ultimate Frisbee is an intense sport, and we practice six hours a week, plus tournaments. That’s a pretty big time commitment, and it makes it hard to fit in PE classes as well.”
Mina Hattori ’19, a student who has not completed the requirement, feels as though there shouldn’t be a PE requirement at all.
“I don’t think there should be one, especially since Wellesley students are already very busy and involved in many activities around campus. And, also a lot students already workout in their own time so it’s not necessary to make everyone to go to a class just to fulfill this requirement.”
Hattori has thought of ways for students to acquire further alternative credit, stating that “one method could be that if you go to a certain amount of the fitness classes you can get credit. Or, personally, I like to work out on my own in the fitness center, so if there was a way to get credit through that that would be nice as well.”
Ultimately, Wilson believes that PE requirement is fair and balanced, commenting that “we have to maintain the integrity of students earning credit. The key thing is progressive instruction, ideally from the same instructor. For all of our PE classes, that’s the case where you start at one point at day one and you learn new things each day.”