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Harvard Athletic Director Erin McDermott declined to comment on recent allegations of emotional abuse levied by women’s ice hockey athletes against head coach Katey Stone but affirmed the importance of the department’s ongoing diversity and inclusion initiatives in an interview Friday.
The allegations against Stone were first reported in a Boston Globe investigation published last month. In the report, current and former players said longtime coach Stone downplayed injuries, dismissed players’ mental health issues, and made insensitive remarks.
In particular, the report detailed an incident where Stone described the team as having “too many chiefs and not enough Indians” following a first-round loss to Princeton in the Eastern College Athletic Conference playoffs last February.
“Harvard took prompt action and thoroughly reviewed Coach Stone’s self-reported use of a once frequently-used colloquialism that is now deemed culturally insensitive during a team meeting,” Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote earlier this month in an emailed statement regarding Stone’s behavior.
“While Harvard was unable to substantiate that any discriminatory conduct took place, it recognized — as Coach Stone did — that the use of this language should not occur,” Dane added.
Stone “immediately apologized” for her “insensitive language” following the game and apologized a second time in the days after, according to Dane.
“Harvard took further steps to support and maintain an inclusive, supportive environment by working with Coach Stone focused on improving communication skills,” Dane wrote in the statement.
On Friday, Harvard University Native American Program released a statement on Instagram in response to the Globe piece, “to recognize the bravery of Maryna Macdonald, the HUNAP student who went on record to recount firsthand the pain of these hurtful experiences.”
According to several former players, former athletic director Robert L. Scalise said in 2019 that the women’s ice hockey team was ranked Harvard’s worst team overall for athlete experience in varsity sports.
During Friday’s interview, McDermott pointed to an annual survey administered by Harvard Athletics at the end of their season regarding both athletic and campus experiences in order to get “a sense of how they feel their full lives are going at Harvard.”
The survey responses are “closely reviewed” by the sports administrators who oversee each program, and feedback is “shared directly” with head coaches each year, according to McDermott.
McDermott said Harvard Athletics will be administering a redesigned survey next year that resembles Harvard’s Q Guide, a course evaluation tool used by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. McDermott said the initiative was designed so athletes can fill out “something that’s familiar” in a survey that can “capture similar types of information.”
McDermott also discussed the following topics:
Harvard Athletics launched a Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Task Force in 2020 to identify “areas of priority” and create “positive change and opportunities,” according to an announcement on the department’s website.
Since its establishment two-and-a-half years ago, two major accomplishments of the task force have been its training programs for coaches and staff and the department’s formal “statement of commitment” to diversity and inclusion, according to McDermott.
“We wanted to first start with staff, including coaches, so those working most closely with our students would be current on the language that we’re using, our understanding of things,” she said. “I think our students are in a different place, and so I wanted to make sure that our staff and people working with them were using the same language and had a similar understanding.”
McDermott said she hopes to begin including students in similar programs next year.
She said the committee is not responsible for addressing the diversity of coaching staff. Still, she said when openings arise, the department is “mindful” of diversity in the hiring process.
“For example — when we hired a women’s basketball coach last year — it’s not the reason we hired Carrie Moore, but it certainly was a positive that we were able to hire a really strong, talented women’s basketball coach who is also African American,” McDermott said.
The department also aims to recruit athletes each year who are reflective of the diversity of the broader undergraduate student body.
“We certainly are wanting to be contributing to the overall mission of the University and to the College and the initiative of having a diverse community,” McDermott said.
McDermott pointed to student engagement, among both athletes and other students, as a key success of the past few years, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“In a way, we kind of saw a bump because of a Covid effect of people just wanting to have the experience, be together. It was really part of the community,” she said. “I was a little concerned that that might then recede once it became normal again, but we’ve actually seen that continue, which has been exciting.”
According to McDermott, the department has been able to more closely monitor student engagement with athletic events through CrimZone — an app which rewards students for attending games.
McDermott said the targeted student engagement efforts have paid off.
“With our women’s basketball program this year, we’ve doubled our sales to their events,” McDermott said. “We’ve sold out of men’s basketball games and men’s hockey games this season at a higher clip than we have in the recent past, and our football attendance was also up.”
Alumni networks have also helped make Harvard Athletics a “robust operation,” McDermott said, referencing both fundraising and networking opportunities for athletes.
“Every sport has a friends group,” McDermott said. “They’re really helpful to us in bringing in some funding that we need to help do the things that we’re trying to accomplish in the department.”
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