Swim Test All Dried Up

Jill Ferris

Walking across the quad, the warm weather is extremely evident as swarms of Colgate students lay tanning in the sun or playing football with friends. These shorts-clad students could easily be supplanted to the nearest beach or poolside. For some of these students, however, they will never set foot in Colgate’s renowned Lineberry Natatorium. On Monday, April 18, the faculty voted unanimously to eliminate the Swim Test as a requirement for graduation, ending a tradition dating back to the 1930s.

According to the Colgate website, students had several options for meeting the swim requirement. Students could submit current Water Safety Instructor certification, Lifeguard Training certification or SCUBA certification, or they could pass a Survival Test consisting of a 100-yard swim and two minutes of treading water.

Many students, such as junior Nicola Harper, easily meet the test requirements, however.

“I’ve just been forgetting to bring my SCUBA certification down to the office,” she said. “I was having a bad hair day during first-year orientation and just didn’t want to get wet, but I’ve never really worried about meeting it because of my certification.”

Still, the Swim Test has long been a source of dread for some students.

“I know how to swim,” first-year George Henry said, “I just didn’t feel comfortable taking the test during orientation. I kind of freaked out and didn’t end up taking the test.”

Some students, though, cite the tradition behind the swim test in their defense of the decade’s old practice.

“I don’t think that the Swim Test was a bad idea,” first-year Jess Lew said. “Swimming is an important skill, and the tradition behind the test was something special about Colgate.”

Assistant Dean of the Faculty Jill Tiefenthaler explained that the tradition was considered in the decision to get rid of the swim requirement.

“The AAB acknowledged that the test is a long-standing tradition at Colgate and that tradition is important,” Tiefenthaler said. “They feel strongly, however, that the swimming proficiency test is inappropriate as a graduation requirement. While swimming is recognized as important as a skill, it was not seen as the most and only important skill (for example, CPR is also very important) and, therefore, its status as the only nonacademic skill required for graduation from Colgate didn’t make sense.”

As of this week, a total of 70 seniors had not met the swim requirement. No longer in jeopardy of not graduating, they are just a few of the students to benefit from the elimination of the requirement. For the many students who have already passed the Swim Test, however, they will see no benefit, according to Tiefenthaler.

The abolition of the Swim Test requirement was a two-year process, beginning in the 2003-04 academic year with a unanimous vote by the Committee on Athletics. The recommendation was then approved by the Academic Affairs Board and the Student Government Association. Since the votes came at the end of the academic year, they did not go to the full faculty until this spring after the measure was once again approved by the Committee on Athletics and the Academic Affairs Board.

The Physical Education Department will now devote the resources previously used to enforce the requirement to encourage first-years to take advantage of swim instruction courses.

“Students will continue to be surveyed at orientation about their swimming skills,” Tiefenthaler said. “Students who cannot swim will be encouraged to take swimming lessons, which will continue to be offered by the Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics division. “

The Swim Test may be gone, but Colgate’s aquatic tradition is certainly far from getting washed down the drain.