Tell the University of Pennsylvania to offer Physical Education classes

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As undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, we believe that the University has a responsibility to develop undergraduates not just as academics but also holistically as people. While school administrators claim to agree with this notion, current policies and course offerings have not been fully aligned with this goal.

The reason we have chosen to focus our efforts on securing for-credit P.E. electives is the importance of physical activity in leading a healthy, satisfied life. It is widely accepted that increased physical activity not only aids in academic performance (Singh et al. 2012, Sanderson 2017, Calestine et al. 2017) but also improves mental health and well-being (Taylor et al. 1985, Byrne 1993, Panedo & Dahn 2005). To be clear, we understand that Penn students have access to great facilities and programs. However, by relegating exercise to an extra-curricular activity, the University has sent a clear signal to students that physical activity is something one fits in AFTER attending to one’s academic responsibilities.

After polling the student body, we feel confident that for-credit P.E. electives would be the most effective way to address this issue. Of our survey respondents, 96% indicated they would be interested in taking such classes at Penn. Furthermore, over 70% of those polled indicated that homework, exams/projects, and lack of sleep had all prevented them from exercising at some point. This highlights the need for a shift in institutional priorities i.e. elevating exercise to the status of a class, thus enabling students to build it into their schedules. Finally, when asked about their motivations for taking such a class, students overwhelmingly answered “increased overall mental health” as a benefit that they were seeking. Rather than funneling more money into surface-level solutions such as CAPS, the University should be looking to more innovative solutions such as P.E. classes that would fundamentally alter student life at Penn.

Not only do we believe that these classes are appropriate, but we also believe they are feasible. Many other universities have dedicated PE departments, including three of our peers in the Ivy League. We envision P.E. classes at Penn counting for credit and lasting 2-3 hours inclusive of a twenty-minute buffer at the beginning and end for students to travel to the appropriate facility. Ideally, the University would offer classes covering weightlifting, boxing/martial arts, individual sports such as tennis, and team sports such as basketball. Students have also demonstrated significant interest in dance, yoga, and swim classes, all of which the University currently offers in some form, but not in a for-credit format. Perhaps the University could use these to pilot the P.E. program.

Ultimately, this petition is about more than P.E. classes. It is a call for the University to stop looking for “quick fixes” to student life problems and address the root causes of student burnout, stress, and anxiety. With that said, we believe P.E. classes to be a tangible, attainable step in the right direction. Let the University know that you agree by signing this petition!


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