Muslim Girls Against Co-Ed Swim Gym

It’s disrespectful to the Muslim girls of Stuyvesant to be forced between sacrificing their modesty or not receiving their Stuyvesant diploma, simply because of the administration’s uncalled-for removal of the girls-only swim gym cohort.

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By Joey Chen

With the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, this school year marks the renewal of a mandatory swimming class for sophomores. However, since this past term, the girls-only swim gym classes are no longer being offered. This decision was made without any further announcement or discussion with students about its implementation and impact. As a matter of fact, other than the sophomores enrolled in swim classes, most students are unaware of the change. In particular, Muslim students have been unfairly excluded from the discussion. Muslim girls now must choose between earning a Stuyvesant diploma or sacrificing their modesty in order to take one of the co-ed swim gym classes.

According to Assistant Principal of School Safety & Security & Physical Education Brian Moran, the girls’ swim gym was removed because “it created a major issue, mostly with programming,” Moran said. As more girls requested it at Stuyvesant, there had to be more sections, and this clashed with programming, as Physical Education classes must be in agreement with science classes. Moran found that the administration was unable to differentiate between those who needed the class and those who simply wanted it. Moran recommended that only students who absolutely need the class should request it in order to make sure that Stuyvesant isn’t overloaded with Girls Only Swim Gym sections. Moran also mentioned a vetting process he had been thinking about, namely requesting a note from religious leaders in order to be verified that you need a girls-only swim gym.

Currently, however, there is no solution for girls already put in co-ed swim gym. For example, sophomore Zarrin Ahmed could not be transferred out of the class like most hijabis and found it incredibly difficult to switch out or find an alternative. In the fall semester, she was placed in a co-ed swim gym class, and her counselor was able to transfer her to another gym class. However, no such solution was available this semester. Now, she currently has to attend a co-ed swim gym where the only solution is to wear a full-body bathing suit as recommended by her swim instructor. To be clear, most Muslim girls, including myself, find full-length bathing suits immodest despite their intention. It’s wrong to make decisions for Muslim girls without our input about such alternatives. As a matter of fact, when speaking to Moran about the fault in that decision, he wasn’t even aware that Muslim girls feel that way about full-length swimsuits. This shows the importance of having a Muslim woman or student at the table when making these kinds of decisions. Despite programming difficulties, student safety and comfort should come first.

Girls’ swim gym has been a solace for Muslim girls and any girls at Stuyvesant who feel uncomfortable with the co-ed option. The dismissal of the class is a blatant disregard of the faith of a large percentage of the student body and is disheartening to see at a school meant to respect diversity. Unfortunately, alternatives are not promising. Swim and physical education teacher Anetta Luczak only offers students in this restricted situation the option to wear alternative swim clothing, according to students in her class. However, this measure is still not adequate. Many hijabis, including myself, do not go to the beach or mixed swimming areas despite the availability of modest swimwear because it’s often not modest enough, especially after swimming. For Stuyvesant’s administration to assume that alternate clothing is a sufficient solution to the problem is irresponsible. It forces the choice of those who don’t fully understand the implications of their decision on students who are left helpless to choose between their faith or their Stuyvesant diploma.

Muslim girls who are forced to take the co-ed swim gym this semester share the discomfort and enragement that I feel as well. An anonymous student who felt especially affected by being placed in the class shared her confusion about why the class was suddenly dismissed. “I went to my guidance counselor, and she told me that Moran told her that Stuy wasn’t offering girls’ swim gym anymore, but he didn’t explain why or if it was ever coming back in the future. The solution my guidance counselor gave me was to wear a modest bathing suit,” the anonymous student said.  She told her counselor about how other students have been able to drop the class, but it didn’t matter. “This wasn’t possible. If [I] dropped it, [I] wouldn’t be able to get the Stuy-endorsed diploma anymore, meaning [my] class options/requirements would be much more limited,” she said. She continued co-ed swim gym despite the fact that she felt that her bathing suit was form-fitting in an effort to make sure she could take the academic classes she wanted in the future. It’s extremely saddening that this student had to make that decision between her own comfort and her schooling, and it’s wrong to put students in a situation where they have to make that kind of decision.

Fortunately, some girls were able to switch out of co-ed swim gym after some drastic measures. Sophomore Tamiyyah Shafiq, a hijabi at Stuyvesant, explained her experience of trying to transfer out of the class. At first, there was pushback from the programming office and administration when she pleaded her case. But after involving her parents, a transfer was available, and she was able to switch classes. However, Tamiyyah is still unsure what the transfer means about her future at Stuyvesant and whether or not getting a Stuyvesant Diploma is completely out of the picture. 

Muslim girls haven’t been quiet about their struggle with programming and girls’ swim gym. Guidance counselor Angel Colon explained that many girls have come to him sharing their grievances about the class, and the best he could do for them was transfer them out of the class. Most girls who come to him complain about “the religious acknowledgement” that they expected Stuyvesant administration to possess and were put off by the fact that the class was no longer offered, Colon said. This is where the problem lies. Having the administration acknowledge that this is a struggle intertwined with religious inclusivity is essential if we want change.

A call to action is crucial. Whether you are one of the demographics affected by this change or not, I implore you to reach out to Principal Yu and other administrators to call for change about this decision. Even if you are an upperclassman who does not have to take Swim Gym or took it many years ago, your voice still matters in this situation.  Together, we can make an impact that will continue to benefit Muslim girls for many years to come. The girls-only swim gym cohort is not a frivolous accommodation for Muslim girls but rather a necessity. If we are expected to take Swim Gym to earn our diplomas, it is an administrative responsibility to make sure that requirement can be met by everyone, and it’s up to us to make sure that this school is as inclusive to its students as possible.