Wellness Education Credit Gives Students Room to Explore

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The new graduation requirement starts with the Class of 2026.

Yoga class on Baker Lawn
Students and other Dartmouth community members participate in a weekly yoga class on Baker Lawn sponsored by the Student Wellness Center in the summer of 2021. (Photo by Robert Gill)

Following a faculty vote in May, Dartmouth’s physical education graduation requirement has become a wellness education requirement, which can be fulfilled with options offered through Physical Education and Recreation, the Student Wellness Center, or other approved activities.

Beginning with the Class of 2026, the change offers students more flexibility in how they approach learning to support their physical and emotional health and emphasizes well-being as a key component to academic and personal success, says Caitlin Barthelmes, director of the wellness center.

“For many years there has been student interest in broadening the PE requirement to be more representative of how students support their well-being at Dartmouth,” Barthelmes says. “The new model recognizes that fostering other dimensions of wellness is equally important to the growth and development for students at Dartmouth and beyond.”

Under the new model, students must complete three wellness education credits to graduate. The credits can be earned through full-term courses, including traditional PE courses; through athletic activities such as varsity teams or club sports; or through participation in a variety of approved mini-courses, workshops, and single-session experiences.

“Our hope is to give students more choices on how they can fulfill this credit,” says Patrick Dolph, an associate professor of biological sciences, who chaired the faculty Committee on Instruction that proposed the change. “It gives students a chance to explore new activities without having to commit to a 12-week course. One hope is they’ll find something they really enjoy and be able to continue doing that at Dartmouth.”

The Office of the Registrar is in the process of developing a system to record credit for à-la-carte options, and a committee with faculty, staff, and student representation is forming to oversee approval of wellness education options. In the meantime, this fall, first-year students are already earning credit for participating in a wellness sampler of mini-courses and experiences on topics ranging from mindfulness and yoga to sleep quality intervention and positive relationships.

While the new system begins with first-year students, current sophomores, juniors, and seniors have also seen their PE requirements adjusted in response to COVID-19 restrictions of the past two academic years. And all students are welcome to participate in wellness opportunities, credit-bearing or not, Barthelmes says.

In addition, last spring the faculty did away with the 50-yard swim test, which had long been a graduation requirement. Barthelmes sees this change as “supportive of the philosophy of enhancing people’s well-being in a way that is tailored to them and more inclusive and empowering for our students.”

The wellness education initiative is one of several new wellness offerings Dartmouth has unveiled this year, including making the mindfulness and meditation app Headspace available to all students and employees and providing the option of free teletherapy services to all students through the mental health provider Uwill. Dartmouth is in the second year of a four-year partnership with the Jed Foundation’s JED Campus Program, a nonprofit organization that works to protect the emotional health of young adults.

“JED has been a way to bring a lot of stakeholders to the table to think about the landscape of mental and emotional health at Dartmouth, and that has been highlighting and accelerating some of the work that has already been underway,” including toward wellness education, Barthelmes says. “The continued work of supporting health and well-being at Dartmouth ultimately helps our students live well, learn well, and be well.”

Hannah Silverstein