Opinion: Physical education classes should be optional at IWU

By James Stein Nov 5, 2021

As a requirement for graduation, Illinois Wesleyan students are required to complete two semesters worth of physical education classes. Administrators intend to benefit the student body in making this a requirement, but in reality it is contributing to the stress of completing the necessary courses to graduate on time. Changes must be made in this requirement in order to alleviate unnecessary stress that comes with taking a physical education course and lighten the responsibilities of an average IWU student.

Illinois Wesleyan students must take two writing intensive courses, complete a foreign language elective and partake in a lab, along with credits satisfying an Analysis of Values, Intellectual Traditions, Formal Reasoning, Literature as well as Art with the three required course flags. Already excluding the classes necessary to complete a major with the possibility of pursuing a minor, this is an immense course load to complete over four short years. The purpose of the general education requirements is to expand students’ knowledge of various topics outside of their chosen major and make them more well rounded. I understand the intention to encourage students to maintain healthy lifestyles. But trying to cram in an additional 50 minute class in an already full schedule that doesn’t even count as a credit, makes students cringe at the thought of getting sweaty at Shirk before 2 consecutive classes. 

The amount of assignments that come with taking a full course load in a semester makes the average student feel as if there already isn’t enough time in the day to complete it all, not to mention striving to indulge in a social life while satisfying any demands that come with extracurricular activities. Adding an additional hour and 40 minutes a week as an obligation for students leads to less time in the day to partake in the responsibilities that direly need to be addressed. 

In the syllabus of nearly every gym class, students are only allowed one absence, otherwise they cannot earn the credit. COVID has led to more PE instructors to be accommodating in granting make-ups for students who had to miss class due to quarantine. But this is still a major inconvenience for students that miss class due to prior obligations of office hours, meeting for a group project, or taking a much-needed mental health break. 

In a poll taken at New York University (NYU), it was found that 45 percent of college students participate in fitness activities regularly. After coming to college, it is easy for formerly implemented health habits to take the backseat. But taking a required gym course leaves students of various fitness levels forced to come and exercise together, which can lead those less familiar with physical fitness to feel vulnerable and self conscious. Perhaps still requiring the necessary two semesters of physical education classes could still be effective in benefitting student health if individuals tracked their weekly workouts on their phone, Apple Watch, or Fitbit, which therefore could be submitted to a supervising coach designated to ensure that a designated group of students completed their workout. Although this may not be the most reasonable alternative to the required PE courses, it could certainly alleviate some of the stress of appearing physically fit to our peers. 

While I appreciate Illinois Wesleyan’s attempts to encourage students to care for their physical fitness, the current structure is doing more harm than good, and is in need of an immediate reform.

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