Athletics Department to Overhaul Complaints Process

UPDATED: August 31, 2017 at 8:41 p.m.

The Harvard Athletics Department will create “a protocol for receiving and acting on complaints of gender inequities” and provide “conflict resolution training” for coaches and staff as part of a wide-ranging set of reforms born from a series of scandals in the last year.

In an email sent to student-athletes Thursday afternoon, Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise detailed the changes the Department will make to address concerns among student athletes about gender equity and administrative responsiveness.

Students athletes will go through a program that “includes important conversations about values-based leadership, sexual harassment and violence prevention, conflict resolution, and equity, diversity and inclusion” in the fall. Coaches and staff will also go through a professional development program that focuses on “unconscious bias training, conflict resolution and sexual assault and harassment prevention.”

“There are areas where we need to do better,” Scalise wrote. “They include very strong team-centered cultures and a corresponding lack of an overarching departmental culture, a lack of streamlined departmental response to resolving conflicts, and gender inclusion and equity issues.”

The announcement comes after a department-wide cultural review, which included a survey sent to all student athletes, coaches, and Athletics administrators and staff as well as focus groups and individual interviews. According to Scalise, over 850 student athletes, coaches, and staff completed the survey and 350 students and other individuals participated in the interviews and focus groups.

The Athletics Department began the review—conducted by consultants from the National Consortium of Academics in Sports— in the spring after a series of high-profile scandals involving the men’s varsity soccer team and the men’s varsity cross country team. Last October, The Crimson reported that the 2012 men’s soccer team produced a “scouting report” that contained sexually-explicit comments about incoming members of the women’s soccer team. University President Drew G. Faust asked the Office of General Counsel to conduct a review of the situation, and the office later found that such scouting reports were annual and continued into the 2016 season. The Athletics Department announced that they had cancelled the remainder of the soccer team’s season in November 2016.

Days after the soccer team’s “scouting report” came to light, reports revealed that past men’s cross country teams had created and circulated spreadsheets that included comments about members of the women’s cross country team, some of which were sexually explicit. The team was placed on “athletic probation” after an OGC investigation found that the 2016 team did not “denigrate or objectify particular women.”

While The Crimson’s reporting spurred the initial review, Scalise wrote that it eventually expanded to take a broader view of the Department’s functions.

Student athletes, coaches, and staff also voiced concerns about gender equity and inclusion in the department. Statistics kept by the U.S. Department of Education show that head coaches of female sports make on average $34,000 less than their counterparts on men’s teams. Assistant coaches on female teams also made significantly less than assistant coaches for men’s teams.

“Participants in the focus groups expressed concerns in several key areas, including facilities, social media coverage and other forms of institutional support, as well as differential recognition for men’s and women’s coaches, staff, and student-athletes,” Scalise wrote in his email.

Issues of gender equity came to a head last semester when several members of the women’s rugby program wrote a series of letters to Scalise and University President Drew G. Faust charging that Harvard does not adequately support women’s sports programs, violating anti-gender discrimination law Title IX.

The Department will also address how it receives complaints from athletes. Scalise wrote that the student-athlete handbook now outlines the process and resources for students who want to express concerns. In addition to the new conflict resolution trainings for coaches and staff, the Department will also discuss conflict resolution with all the teams.

“Some of you expressed that you felt the athletic department was either not responsive or slow to resolve conflicts that occur in a team environment,” Scalise wrote. “Others of you reported feeling uncertain on how to bring forward concerns, or felt the policies currently in place were not effectively followed by athletic administrators.”

Last year, the women’s cross country and track and field programs also came under scrutiny after a number of former and current student athletes, faculty, and athletics staff raised concerns about the team’s divided culture and distance coach Patrick Wales-Dinan. After eight former athletes called on Scalise to remove Wales-Dinan from the program, Harvard’s office of human resources began working with an outside factfinder to investigate the team’s culture—a process that some athletes criticized as biased and imperfect.

Head Coach Jason S. Saretsky announced in late June that Wales-Dinan would be stepping down from his position.

In addition to concerns about gender equity and the complaints process within the department, Scalise wrote that student athletes overall expressed feeling disconnected from the Department at large. Student athletes also called for more support from coaches and staff to help navigate their “dual roles as students and student-athletes.”

Scalise announced that in response to this feedback, the Department will host community discussions with student athletes in order to “connect values to day-to-day experiences of our team and department.” The Athletics Department has tasked the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to work with the intramural programs in the Houses and the Office of Student Life to host activities for all students.

—Staff writer Brittany N. Ellis can be reached at brittany.ellis@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @britt_ellis10.

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