Like many other students, I’m worried about the future of the health, physical education and dance (P.E.) department. I’m a big supporter of the department and the idea of having its courses incorporated into the College’s General Education Requirements (GER), but I realize that some students at Emory disagree with me, employing a number of arguments against the requirements and debating the usefulness of the department at all. But the comments I’ve heard have only led me to think that the students who complain about the P.E. GERs don’t seem to recognize how important personal health and wellness are, and therefore are probably the ones who need these classes the most.
One seemingly legitimate argument that I frequently hear is, “But I exercise all the time, why do I need to take a P.E. class?” I also exercise fairly regularly, but I was still surprised to see that I ranked as “poor” in many areas for the fitness test. I know it’s hard to do, but we need to own up to the fact that we’re probably not even close to as healthy or “in-shape” as we think we are. Even so, anyone who’s taken P.E. will know that there are many components to fitness, and just because you can run a six-minute mile, that doesn’t necessarily mean your muscular strength or endurance or flexibility — an aspect of fitness that becomes increasingly important later in life — are up to par.
Others assert that they simply don’t have time to take P.E. classes on top of their regular course load, arguing that it’s inconvenient to have to review for quizzes or complete assignments for P.E. while trying to keep up in their traditional academic courses. While I can understand that sometimes, as college students, we’re so busy that we want to cut anything that can be cut out of our schedules, the instructors make it so easy for you to succeed — extra credit, the ability to make up missed classes, etc. — that this doesn’t even hold as a viable complaint. We’re all busy, some more than others. But the fact that I can always find time to have a “Harry Potter” marathon, yet I never seem to have time to write my columns before deadline, demonstrates to me that most of the time, when we say we don’t have time, we really mean we just don’t want to.
Maybe the University could consider making it easier for students who do have legitimate concerns about time or utility, like students who have to work several hours a week throughout their college years, to be exempt. But in the meantime, we should try to make the most of the requirements. It appears to me that most students don’t realize what a valuable resource they have at their disposal and take the P.E. department for granted — when else in your life are you going to be able to play team handball or take tai chi with swords and get credit for it, too? The P.E. GERs not only ensure that students incorporate necessary physical activity into their daily schedules, but also offer opportunities for students to explore interests and activities they may not have a chance to otherwise.
Finally, it seems like some people are shrugging off the reductions, citing the fact that many other schools don’t have a P.E. department at all. This is a dismissive argument that fails to recognize the P.E. department as something that indeed makes Emory unique from other universities.
Unfortunately, the department and its faculty rarely receive the recognition they deserve, which seems reflective of a national mindset that ignores the worthiness and effectiveness of healthy life habits and early preventative measures. The department is important, and it’s regrettable that Emory — which for some reason doesn’t provide tenure to faculty in the P.E. department — doesn’t recognize this.
The point is that a P.E. class isn’t like taking “gym” in elementary school or middle school, where you run two laps and then learn how to dance the Macarena or the Cotton-Eyed Joe and never actually discuss personal health. The courses offered by the health and P.E. department give equal emphasis to all aspects of health and not just physical fitness, giving a 360-degree approach to wellness. The crucial role that the department plays at Emory is to instill healthy life habits. Actually getting students active and off their butts, though still important, is really only the classes’ secondary purpose.
Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College junior from Atlanta.