Op-Ed: The Real World Has Stingrays. So Why Doesn’t the Swim Test?

When people think of Cornell’s most distinctive features, they usually come up with three things: the gorges, former president Hunter R. Rawlings III, and the swim test. The last is particularly renowned, with many alumni citing it as among their most formative college experiences. But a dark truth hides beneath the pool’s chlorinated surface.

For all its virtues, the swim test ultimately does not prepare its participants for the real waters outside of the pool. In a life-or-death situation, there are no lane markers, no disciplinarian lifeguards, no 75-meter finish line, no uncomfortable crowd of scantily clad first-years anxiously looking on. Out there, one will find only the lapping of waves and their heart pounding in their chest.

And stingrays.

For those unfamiliar with the infernal beasts, stingrays are best described as venomous tortillas that are also sharp. More closely related to sharks than humans, they can be abundant in tropical waters. They have no bones and know nothing but hatred. And Cornell has done nothing—nothing—to protect its students against them.

Over 2,000 stingray injuries are reported every year—in Colombia alone. What more evidence does Cornell need?

Some may point to the scarcity of stingrays in North American waters as justification for omitting the insidious elasmobranchs. This perspective is both naïve and shortsighted. Just because there are no stingrays now does not mean there will never be stingrays. No, stingrays strike when stingrays please. And generations of Cornell alumni are not ready.

All of this potential for catastrophe could be avoided by simply stocking the university’s pools with stingrays. Through gradually increasing exposure to the rays, students will learn to coexist with them and avoid provoking their hellish vengeance. Occasional accidents may be unavoidable, but graduation from Cornell is a privilege, not a right—an honor befitting of only the unstung. Only after this change is implemented will Cornell have fully prepared its student body for the real world and all its hazards. 

At long last, any student finding instruction in any study will be prepared for any stingray.

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