When field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse senior captain Francie Walton heard about the Harvard Athletic Department's decision yesterday to expand certain women's sports programs, she could hardly contain her excitement.
"It's fantastic," Walton said. "I think it's a definite step in the right direction."
The University's announcement that it would implement a three-year plan to further gender equity in Harvard sports drew praise from players and coaches alike, with most members of the athletic community voicing the same type of enthusiasm as Walton.
The women's softball team, which stands to gain the most from the plan, will benefit immediately from the changes, according to Coach Barry Haskell.
"Our women will have some greater opportunities in terms of competition, facilities, that sort of thing," he said.
But far from sounding bitter about the current situation, Haskell and some other coaches said that Harvard had been highly supportive of women's athletics even before yesterday's announcement.
"The University's been very good to softball," Haskell said. "We have one of the best fields in the Ivy League, and this just keeps that going."
Frank Haggerty '68, the men's and women's cross country coach, pointed to Harvard's consistent efforts to include as many students as possible in intercollegiate athletics.
"I'm going onto my 19th year of coaching here," he said. "I think there's always been a concern to upgrade whatever programs we have: men's, women's, club, whatever. We've always had a philosophy of participation."
Not everyone had as much praise for the school's past handling of gender equity issues, however.
"It seems to me that [the Athletic Department] had been ducking the issue in the past," said Radcliffe heavyweight crew captain Tilde Hajek. "[This plan] is a good first step, but I don't think there's equity now, and I don't think there will be even after the new plan is implemented."
Hajek and the Radcliffe crew team, who have been among the most vigorous proponents of gender equity in the past few months, recently christened one of their shells "Title IX" in honor of the law mandating equal opportunity for male and female college athletes.
"I see the whole [plan] as more symbolic of attitudes changing, and the fact that Harvard has taken a step shows that it is becoming sensitive to these issues," the Eliot senior said.
Stephanie Stein, a senior on the women's water polo team, lauded the changes but said she was disappointed that not all teams would reap the benefits of the plan.
"It's too bad water polo is not part of the development plan," she said. "I think it's fantastic that Harvard is addressing the issues, but water polo is a sport that people who did not play in high school can pick up here. We need extra pool time, because right now we end up practicing from eight to 10, and it's just not safe walking across the river that late at night."
Such concerns, which remain to be addressed, could not take away from the larger significance of yesterday's announcement, however. All those interviewed supported the Athletic Department's move.
Some, like Walton, saw it as inevitable. "I thought all along that this year things were going to start turning around. There was a lot of talk this spring and a lot more people were aware.
"Just making people aware is so important," she said. "If you keep quiet, nothing is going to change. We have to see what this does and go from there, but I think what the school has done is just great."