GAZETTE: Could you tell us a little bit about the study that was announced recently, and what you hope to achieve with it?
GAy: Well, the department’s centennial anniversary is rapidly approaching. This study is our opportunity to set our aspirations for the next century, and do so in a way that builds on the successes we have achieved over the last almost 100 years and that maintains our position as a standard-bearer among our peers in the Ivy League. The question is: How do we continue to do that in a context that has changed dramatically since the department’s founding, or even since the establishment of the Ivy League? We were just talking about the change in terms of the professionalization and the specialization of youth sports as one example. But more generally we have a new generation of students on our campus, so how do we reinvigorate our core commitments and principles so that they feel relevant to the students who are here now?
Scalise: I’m excited that we’re doing this study, because it will give us a roadmap in terms of where we want to go moving forward, and also tell us what things we might want to emphasize more in athletics. But I also think we will see that we are doing some really positive things here. And one of the challenges is figuring out how we can create that experience for more of our students. So I think there will be some good that comes from this for others, as well as for our department. There’s a real bond that is created with our students and their coaches. And whenever one of our alumni comes back, one of the first things they do is stop by to see their coach. We would love them to stop to see not only their coach, but also a key adviser or faculty member, or maybe someone they got to know in the administration. That would be ideal. So, we want to better understand what we are doing here at athletics that creates these bonds, and how can we do that all over Harvard?
GAy: I absolutely agree. One of the hopes is to take what we learn from this study and use it for the benefit of all of our students. For example, there is the strong sense of belonging that is so evident in the student-athlete community, the pride in the institution, much of it forged through their involvement in athletics. That feeling of being “at home at Harvard,” that is something we want for every student. How might we cultivate that for all of our students?
GAZETTE: In the announcement you talked about engaging the Harvard community. Can you tell us more specifically who, and what groups you want to hear from as part of this process?
GAy: Everybody! First and foremost the students. I’m eager to hear more about their experience. Also, the coaches, athletics staff, faculty, and other campus partners to the department. We hope to connect with alums whose participation in athletics during their time at the College remains a source of continuing attachment and love for Harvard.
Scalise: One of the things I’m hoping to get out of this is to make sure we have the right balance between this strong bond and affiliation with their team, and also taking advantage of the rest of what Harvard has to offer. I really want this study to include people who are not athletes. In a lot of the sports programs around the country, you see all these specialized programs just for student-athletes. And so of course the athletes all hang together.
GAy: Yes, a world apart.
Scalise: Right. It’s not the approach we want to take. So how do we make sure that the student-athlete experience is similar to other students’ experiences, and that they intersect? How do we orchestrate the right balance there so that people can connect with one another?
GAZETTE: So while athletics is obviously the focus of this study, it sounds like the goal is to have it ultimately touch on other facets of the University.
GAy: Exactly. When we think about the student-athlete experience, at its foundation we want it to be integrated, academically and socially, and broadly similar to the experience of non-athletes. We want every student to take full advantage of everything Harvard has to offer.
Scalise: I’m also hoping that this will not just be about intercollegiate athletics, but also look at our club offerings and our intramurals. And a big thing on my mind right now is overall health and wellness for our students. Are we doing everything we can do to ensure the health and wellness, both physically and mentally, of these young people we are about to send off into the world? So, there are a lot of different parts to this study.
GAZETTE: What can you tell us about the timing of the study?
GAy: Because we want this effort to benefit from extensive outreach and consultation, the work is going to take a while. We hope by early spring the study will be complete and that we will be able to share a public report with the community.
Scalise: Claudine has been dean for just about a year now, and over that time we have had extensive conversations where we’ve tried to make her aware of a broad range of athletics issues.
GAy: Yes, and that groundwork was critical because it helped me to frame what the questions are that we want to answer. Being able to approach this with the benefit of some contextual knowledge has been really helpful. I’ve spent a lot of time on that in the last year. One thing I also want to emphasize about the study is that we not only want to engage in broad outreach, we want people to participate. And we want them to participate in an open and candid way so that what we learn from the study has real credibility. Good participation is something that will be really critical to the success of the whole effort. Many colleges and universities seem to be undertaking some sort of study or review of athletics, and a lot of it feels very reactive. That’s not what we’re engaged in here. This is about using this moment to think about what the future could look like for Harvard Athletics, and challenging ourselves to be really intentional about it.