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Harvard Athletics Director Discusses Student-Athlete Inclusion in Larger Student Body

A Harvard Crimson softball athlete scooters over the Anderson Memorial Bridge towards the athletics complex.
A Harvard Crimson softball athlete scooters over the Anderson Memorial Bridge towards the athletics complex. By Julian J. Giordano
By Justin Lee and Jennifer L. Powley, Crimson Staff Writers

Crowds of students lined up to receive a red sweatshirt bearing the phrase “One Crimson” in Harvard Yard last September.

These sweatshirts were part of the Harvard Athletics Department’s ongoing initiative to bridge the gap between student-athletes and the larger student body, Harvard Athletics Director Erin McDermott said in an interview Friday.

Following a 2020 Athletics Department review that found many student-athletes feel a disconnect with the broader student body, the Athletic Department wants to boost the interaction between student-athletes and the rest of campus, according to McDermott.

McDermott said the elite gear student-athletes receive from their teams might perpetuate this divide. The Athletics Department had this in mind when they gave students a free “One Crimson” sweatshirt, she said.

“I know it’s a sweatshirt — it’s not gonna save the world, but it’s a message that we want you to be part of us,” McDermott said. “It’s our way of giving a warm hug to campus.”

The Athletic Department’s efforts to achieve greater campus unity include offering recreational programming and upgrading facilities’ fitness offerings and equipment, per McDermott.

“We want our community to really be fluid between student-athletes being part of the student body and students being part of our athletic community,” McDermott said.

“If we can not have the river be such a divider and have reasons that people have to cross over all the more, then I think it helps with that flow,” she added. “We can try to capitalize on that by making our spaces more fluid and welcoming to everyone.”

Student-athletes have reported feeling isolated from their houses as team practices often conflict with regular meal times, forcing them to eat at a different time than other students, McDermott noted.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about meals since I've been here,” she said.

This year, Dunster’s dinner hours have been extended one hour later than in other houses, allowing student-athletes to eat until 8:30 p.m. every night. McDermott said though this change has accommodated student-athletes, it has its drawbacks.

“It puts them in one place, and they’re not able to eat with their residential communities, which is a big part of experiencing Harvard,” McDermott said.

The Athletics Department also aims to foster collaboration between faculty and coaches to help student-athletes juggle their academic and athletic responsibilities.

McDermott cited the Faculty Standing Committee on Athletic Sports — a committee composed of athletics staff, faculty, students, and other representatives across the University — as a means to encourage this cooperation. The group is tasked with discussing sports-related policies and overseeing the athletic experience on campus, among other purposes.

“That alignment for the faculty to see the coaches really engage in a process that they can relate to — because they may do it in an academic sense, and now they’re seeing the coaches speak at that type of level as a coach — is only reinforcing that our coaches are truly educators,” she said.

McDermott also discussed efforts to integrate non-athlete students into Harvard Athletics through initiatives like the Grow. Play. Achieve. Program, created in 2020 by the department to promote health and wellness among undergraduates.

Through the initiative, coaches have the opportunity to “present some of their wisdom and expertise” to the whole student body, McDermott said.

—Staff writer Justin Lee can be reached at justin.lee@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Jennifer L. Powley can be reached at jennifer.powley@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferlPowley.

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