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Not So Swimmingly

I enjoyed reading Karin Colby’s “The Life Aquatic” (spring 2016) and was thinking about her positive approach to swimming, until I had a horrifying flashback: Swarthmore’s mandatory swimming test. Male students just swam a certain number of laps, but female students had to master many different strokes, swim underwater, dive from the low board, and jump from the high diving board. I managed to fake everything except that last jump.

I had to petition the dean of women to graduate. Despite her annoyance at my viewpoint that Swarthmore should award its degrees based on academics, not athletics, and my astonishment at her statement that jumping would save me on a sinking ocean liner like the Titanic, she grudgingly allowed me to graduate. 

At that point, in my senior year, I’d been managing editor of The Phoenix and president of the Student Council, and was on the Student Judiciary Committee as well as in Honors. It was bizarre to fear not graduating because I was afraid to jump from the high board! Perhaps Ms. Colby can explain what today’s exam involves. 

—ANN MOSELY LESCH ’66, Philadelphia, Pa.


KC responds: “I’m so sorry, Ann! Happily, the test has undergone a few changes: Now students must swim 75 yards, climb out of the pool without assistance, jump in the deep end (no high dive), and tread water for two minutes. For those who can’t pass or opt out, we offer stress-free swimming lessons throughout the year. We want to teach water safety without scaring—or scarring—anyone!”