February 1, 2010

Freshman Swim Test Made Coed After 92 Years

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Cornell’s required swim test, which has been administered separately to males and females for the past 92 years, will be made coed starting next fall semester.

According to Fred Debruyn, director of aquatics, the idea of changing the required swim test into a coed test first came to his attention many years ago, but simply was not agreed upon within the department. However, this change has finally been approved and will be enacted during Orientation Week of fall 2010.

“We want to make the test as easy and convenient as possible for people,” Debruyn said, “Hopefully, this way we won’t be chasing after people their senior year.”

Each year nearly 3,000 students register to take their required swim test during the week before the fall semester begins. Thus, according to Debruyn, testing both females and males together will save more time and efficiently use both facilities in the Helen Newman Hall and Teagle Hall.

In addition, in order to test the waters with this new change, administrators plan to offer three days of coed swim tests, separated tests on Friday, and women-only tests the following Tuesday. The day especially for women will be made available for those whose religion require separation of genders when taking the test.

Historically, University women were the first to be tested in 1918. According to Debruyn, the original women’s physical education director believed the skill of swimming to be “a good thing for proper young ladies to know.” Two decades later, when the ROTC program and World War II became a main focus for Cornell, males were required to take swim tests.

Up until the late 1970s, the test for males was only 50 yards and suit optional while the female test was 100 yards. Thus, the tests were given separately. In 1978, according to Debruyn, Alan Gantert, former director of athletics, altered both tests to require all genders to swim 75 yards.

Currently, only three Ivy Leagues and 11 other universities nationally require all students to pass a swim test. Most of these 14 institutions maintain the same rules as Cornell in order to pass, with the exception of different distance requirements.

“A couple laps in an indoor pool isn’t proper confirmation that one would be able to swim to safety in a situation that, Cornell apparently predicts, students are in danger of,” Ben Wie ’13 said, “Furthermore, students who literally doggy paddled their way back and forth … still passed the test.”

Despite fewer and fewer institutions following this tradition, Cornell has maintained this graduation requirement. According to Debruyn, statistically most people who drown come from a family with parents who can’t swim. Thus, Cornell hopes to break this cycle and believes if at least one parent knows how to swim “he or she will be more likely to push his or her children to learn.”

Although coed swim tests have yet to be administered, current students of both genders seem to view this change in quite differently.

“Coed swim tests are not really a concern for me. As a guy, I have no problem with swim testing with girls. After all, public pools are coed,” Wie said.

Original Author: Elaine Lin