A place to fail: Saying goodbye to Adventure Games and the Activity Program


The fall of my sophomore year, I signed up for Adventure Games with my freshman roommate as a way for us to stay in touch despite not living together that year. I signed up despite my fear of heights, and I’m glad I did, because it has been one of my favorite classes while in college.

Before taking the class, I had heard about the course and loved the fact that a school like William and Mary, known for its academic rigor, offered the Activity Program in the kinesiology department. I loved the acknowledgement that learning and growing as a person doesn’t just come from a traditional classroom or lab experience, but that there are some lessons best learned through engaging in physical activity that requires you to work in a team and problem solve in a  unique way. The classes also give students an outlet to relax in a healthy way — a much-needed outlet in my opinion.

Most people coming into this school don’t know what it’s like to fail, and I appreciated having a space where I could fail and learn that it was OK.

My experience in the class served as much more than a healthy outlet to relax. I took it at a time when I was experiencing the most difficult academic semester of my life. For the first time I seriously feared failing a class. I had never really failed at anything I cared about before, and the thought of it always induced anxiety to varying degrees.

Confronting my fear of heights during Adventure Games translated surprisingly well to confronting my fear of failing at school. What helped the fear of heights the most was not performing tasks at heights successfully, but rather falling from those heights (a lot) and realizing that I was fine. Failure is built into Adventure Games, which is probably what I loved the most, because everybody “failed.”

When you fall attempting a task in Adventure Games, nobody laughs at you. You don’t get embarrassed. You don’t have to meet with the Dean of Students and you aren’t put on academic probation. You just get up and try again with an overwhelming amount of support from your classmates. Most people coming into this school don’t know what it’s like to fail (that is in fact why we’re all here), and I appreciated having a space where I could fail and learn that it was OK.

That semester I didn’t do great in school, but nobody laughed at me, I wasn’t disowned by my parents and I wasn’t kicked out of school; I just got back up and kept trying with a sense of resilience that was much stronger and independent of my GPA. The experience of failure isn’t built into many other classes at William and Mary outside of the Activity Program, and it’s quite a shame, because those experiences are what build character, not just raw intellect.

There will be other outlets for future William and Mary students to build the character that I built taking Adventure Games, but I fear that those outlets won’t be as visible as items on the Open Course List. It saddens me to know that the future student body won’t have the same opportunity to grow as people the way many current students and alumni have. The elimination of Activity Program kinesiology classes will eliminate the opportunity for a really unique life experience for all future students, as well as a cherished piece of William and Mary and its student culture.

Email Kim Turner at katurner@email.wm.edu.


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