Williams College Eliminates Swim Test Graduation Requirement For Racial Equity

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2022/07/07/williams-college-eliminates-swim-test-graduation-requirement-for-racial-equity/

Students no longer need to pass a swim test to graduate from Williams College, for the sake of racial equity.

The college’s Committee on Educational Affairs voted 103-30 in favor of eliminating the swim test graduation requirement at a May 11 meeting, as The Williams Record reports.

The school required freshmen to take a swim test before the school year began. If they failed the test, they had to take a beginner swim course that counted as physical education credit.

Here is what the school’s web site said of the requirement:


During ‘First Days’ our freshman will be scheduled to complete the swim test. Students are required to swim 25 yards front crawl and 25 yards backstroke.

Non-swimmers should also report to the pool. You are not required to take the swim test but must sign up for a beginning swim class.

While the swim test is a requirement of all Williams students, it is designed to be a safe and comfortable experience for everyone. Williams has always felt (since 1793) that it is vitally important that all graduates leave here with the ability to swim. If, for reason of religious observance or gender identity/expression, you would prefer to take the swim test in a private setting we will happily accommodate your needs. …

Williams College is a private liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

The school’s Committee on Educational Affairs conducted a report on the swim test and found that the students who took the test were disproportionately non-white and foreign. On average, 47 students took the beginner swim course each school year from fall 2013 to fall 2019. Of them, just 3 percent were white American students; 81 percent were non-white Americans and 16 percent were international students.

The school last conducted the swim test in 2019; it did not conduct the test in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At the meeting in May, computer science professor Dan Barowy argued that just because a disproportionate number of non-white students fail the test, that doesn’t mean the school should eliminate the requirement. 

“What matters is whether or not there’s a disparate harm,” he said, according to The Williams Record. “It’s hard for me to see the harm … There is a clear benefit:  There is a mathematical fact that learning how to swim lowers your chance of dying a preventable death.”

However, Brittany Meche, assistant professor of environmental studies, disagreed.

“Learning to swim, while important, is something you can’t force on people,” she said, according to The Williams Record.

At an April 2022 Committee on Educational Affairs meeeting, political science professor Cathy Johnson, who chairs the committee, said that the test had to go because the outcomes were unequal by race.

“We believe that a requirement with such a disparate impact is problematic,” she said, according to The WIlliams Record. 

In 1987, longtime Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Al Campanis was fired for insisting that, among other things, black Americans were naturally inferior swimmers to white people. He made the remark in a Nightline interview with Ted Koppel.

Here is a transcript of that part of the interview:


KOPPEL:  Mr. Campanis, it’s a legitimate question. You’re an old friend of Jackie Robinson’s, but it’s a tough question for you. You’re still in baseball. Why is it that there are no black managers, no black general managers, no black owners?

CAMPANIS:  Well, Mr. Koppel, there have been some black managers, but I really can’t answer that question directly. The only thing I can say is that you have to pay your dues when you become a manager. Generally, you have to go to minor leagues. There’s not very much pay involved, and some of the better known black players have been able to get into other fields and make a pretty good living in that way.

KOPPEL:  Yeah, but you know in your heart of hearts — and we’re going to take a break for a commercial — you know that that’s a lot of baloney. I mean, there are a lot of black players, there are a lot of great black baseball men who would dearly love to be in managerial positions, and I guess what I’m really asking you is to, you know, peel it away a little bit. Just tell me, why you think it is. Is there still that much prejudice in baseball today?

CAMPANIS:  No, I don’t believe it’s prejudice. I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager.

KOPPEL:  Do you really believe that?

CAMPANIS:  Well, I don’t say that all of them, but they certainly are short. How many quarterbacks do you have? How many pitchers do you have that are black?

KOPPEL:  Yeah, but I mean, I gotta tell you, that sounds like the same kind of garbage we were hearing 40 years ago about players, when they were saying, ”Aah, not really — not really cut out –” Remember the days, you know, hit a black football player in the knees, and you know, no –”  That really sounds like garbage, if — if you’ll forgive me for saying so.

CAMPANIS: No, it’s not — it’s not garbage, Mr. Koppel, because I played on a college team, and the center fielder was black, and the backfield at NYU, with a fullback who was black, never knew the difference, whether he was black or white, we were teammates. So, it just might just be — why are black men, or black people, not good swimmers? Because they don’t have the buoyancy.

KOPPEL: Oh, I don’t — I don’t — it may just be that they don’t have access to all the country clubs and the pools. But I’ll tell you what, let’s take a break, and we’ll continue our discussion in a moment.


Barowy, Meche, Johnson, and a spokesman for Williams College could not be reached for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday this week. 


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