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Harvard Athletic Director Erin McDermott responded to an investigation into the women’s ice hockey team and announced upcoming changes to the department in an email to Harvard Athletics affiliates Tuesday morning.
The independent investigation, conducted by law firm Jenner and Block, came after allegations published in the Boston Globe and the Athletic that head coach Katey Stone fostered a toxic environment by denigrating players, ignoring injuries, and disregarding mental health issues. Former players also reported a culture of hazing and fear.
Stone announced her resignation on June 7. The announcement contained no mention of the investigation or the toxicity allegations, which date back more than 20 years.
The investigation marked the eighth major review surrounding Harvard Athletics since 2016, five of which have involved external investigators. According to McDermott’s Tuesday email, the review was “recently completed.”
“Our current women’s ice hockey team has not fostered a culture of hazing,” McDermott wrote on Tuesday. “However, it is clear that some traditions in recent years were experienced differently by different people and not all were comfortable with those activities or with expressing concerns relating to the program. We now have an opportunity to end team traditions that are harmful to team culture and inconsistent with our community norms.”
An analysis by The Crimson found that the women’s ice hockey team had the lowest retention of members of the Class of 2023 among the 40 teams for which rosters are listed online. According to the Globe’s investigation, 14 recruited athletes have quit the team since 2016.
McDermott wrote on Tuesday that Harvard Athletics has an opportunity “to lead and foster a culture that reflects our values of mutual respect, support of one another, transparency in our processes and procedures, and a focus on the safety and dignity of our student-athletes.”
“Our department’s procedures and communications with student-athletes have led to confusion and frustration among members of our community, and there are areas where we must improve,” she added.
In her email, McDermott pledged to prioritize a new reporting pipeline for harmful behavior.
“The Athletics Department, with support from the College, will instruct student-athletes and all administrative and coaching staff annually on reporting conduct that is inconsistent with Harvard’s community standards,” McDermott wrote.
“This will include whom to speak about concerns without fear of retribution or reprisal, and how concerns are adjudicated and resolved, both within Harvard Athletics and in the College,” she added.
McDermott wrote that the initiatives will include clear communication of resources for mental health and balancing academic and athletic schedules.
“We, I, must do more to ensure that every student-athlete feels supported in this community,” she wrote.
Beyond departmental initiatives, McDermott announced that Harvard Athletics and Harvard College will also be introducing “a leadership academy program to provide enhanced pedagogical opportunities for students who hold leadership roles across the College.”
The program will aim to “promote positive cultural norms” and help students “navigate challenging situations and difficult conversations,” according to McDermott.
“This program will support our collective focus on updating team traditions to align with our values, and will help us move forward positively as a community,” she added.
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