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Athletics Department Begins Assessment of Program Culture

The Murr Center houses several Harvard athletic facilities.
The Murr Center houses several Harvard athletic facilities. By Thomas W. Franck
By Brittany N. Ellis, Crimson Staff Writer

After a series of highly-publicized incidents last fall, Harvard Athletics has begun working with a team of consultants from the National Consortium for Academics and Sports to review the culture of the department’s 42 varsity programs.

NCAS is currently conducting a survey of student athletes, coaches, and staff about their experiences with Harvard Athletics and plans to host focus groups and individual interviews with department affiliates, according to emails from Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise and Athletics spokesperson Timothy J. Williamson.

Scalise announced the appointment of NCAS “to work on ensuring that our team cultures are aligned with our departmental values” in an email to student-athletes.

C. Keith Harrison, a business professor at University of Central Florida and former NCAA football player, is leading the survey review. Harrison’s research focuses on issues of gender and race diversity and inclusion in education, business, and sports. He has previously worked with professional football teams and other universities. Harrison declined to comment on his work at Harvard.

“Through this process, we will collaborate with and gain input from our student-athletes, coaches, and staff, as we seek to create the best possible environment in which to learn and compete,” Senior Associate Athletics Director Nathan Fry wrote of the review process in an emailed statement.

The department’s internal cultural assessment comes after a series of investigations into a number of Harvard teams in the fall. The Crimson reported in October that a member of Harvard’s 2012 men’s soccer team created and distributed a document that evaluated freshman recruits from the women’s team based on their perceived sexual appeal. On Nov. 4, Harvard cancelled the men’s soccer season after an Office of General Council investigation revealed that the practice had continued into the 2016 season.

The same month, The Crimson reported that the men’s cross country team had created yearly spreadsheets, some of which included “sexually explicit” comments, about members of the women’s team. After an OGC review into the team’s conduct, the Athletics Department placed the men’s cross country team on “athletic probation.” Following this decision, the Athletics Department announced that it would commission a professional review of the program’s culture.

The women’s cross country team has also been at the center of a series of investigations by faculty, Harvard’s Title IX Office, and Harvard’s human resources office after current and former athletes raised concerns about the team’s culture and the conduct of assistant coach Patrick Wales-Dinan.

NCAS’s survey, which closes Monday, was optional and anonymous. It asked participants about their demographic information and their membership in various student organizations, including final clubs. It also queried participants about team traditions and conflict resolution processes.

Other sections listed various ethnic, racial, gender, and sexuality identity categories and asked participants to rate how respectful and proactive in addressing discrimination their team, the department, and the College at large was towards these groups.

Further sections asked whether respondents had experienced personally or witnessed others experiencing “offensive, hostile, or intimidating conduct that has interfered with your ability to compete in your sport or learn in the classroom.” Subsequent questions prompted students to explain how, where, and from whom they experienced this behavior.

As the survey closes, department administrators have begun establishing and meeting with focus groups of student-athletes to further discuss Athletics culture and its impact among students at the College.

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