Harvard Women’s Ice Hockey Investigation Finds No Evidence of Hazing Culture

The Athletics Director says her department is committed to enhancing reporting policies and mental health support.

Montage of hockey player in ice rink, with Harvard's women's hockey insignia over it

The announcement comes after an independent investigation into abuse allegations.

Montage by Niko Yaitanes/Harvard Magazine; photograph of hockey player by Unsplash

Harvard Athletics Director Erin McDermott addressed the findings of an independent investigation into alleged abuse on the women's ice hockey team and announced forthcoming departmental changes in an email sent to members of the Harvard Athletics community yesterday morning. The review, led by former federal prosecutor Katya Jestin, was carried out after the Boston Globe reported in January a series of allegations from multiple players and alumni—which others have denied—that head coach Katey Stone fostered a “culture of complete fear,” engaging in abusive and discriminatory conduct, such as ignoring injuries, using derogatory language, and disregarding mental health concerns.

Following the publication of the Globe article, Stone faced significant criticism within the women’s hockey community, and multiple outlets picked up the story. In March, The Athletic ran an investigative report titled “Hazing, Naked Skates and a ‘mental-health Hunger Games’: The dark side of Harvard women’s ice hockey.” It described more abuse allegations, including underage binge drinking during the team’s annual “Initiation Week,” sexually oriented skits, and a “naked skate” tradition. According to the Globe article, 14 recruited players have quit the team in the past seven years, marking a particularly low retention rate among varsity teams. Until now, Harvard and athletics officials have refrained from providing any comment on these allegations, resulting in news coverage relying on information leaks and interviews.

Stone announced her retirement on June 7 in a statement that made no mention of the allegations, and the search for someone to fill her place began immediately. In her 27-season tenure over 29 seasons, she led Harvard’s program to national prominence with 523 collegiate victories—more than any other female coach in women’s hockey history—and became the first woman to coach a U.S. Olympic hockey team when she served as Team USA’s head coach at the 2014 Olympic Games. Stone has nurtured some of the sport’s brightest talents, including 15 Olympians, 24 All-American athletes, and six recipients of the Patty Kazmaier award (an annual honor recognizing the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey). “The decision to retire from any profession is never an easy decision; for coaches, stepping down from the bench, leaving the program you have poured your heart and soul into for this many years, is especially hard,” Stone wrote. “I believe a coach knows in their heart when it is time for change, and I look forward to supporting the next chapter in Harvard Women’s Hockey.”

“Our current women’s ice hockey team has not fostered a culture of hazing,” McDermott wrote in yesterday’s statement. “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.” McDermott has not publicized the Jenner & Block Report, nor did she release a summary of its findings.

McDermott’s message to the community outlined three next steps: enhancing reporting, facilitating access to wellness resources, and forging a partnership between Athletics and the College to cultivate student leadership.

“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,” McDermott wrote in the Wednesday statement. The Athletics Department has pledged “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.”

McDermott stated that, with the backing of the College, the Athletics Department will provide annual instruction to student-athletes, administrative staff, and coaching personnel on “reporting conduct that is inconsistent with Harvard’s community standards.” This will include information on how to report concerns “without fear of retribution or reprisal” and insight into how those concerns are “adjudicated and resolved, both within Harvard Athletics and in the College.” Such information will align with procedures described in the Harvard College Student Handbook and be made available in “all online Athletics resources” for the upcoming academic year.

Student-athletes will also receive clear instructions on how to access mental wellness support resources and other faculty resources to help them balance their academic and athletic commitments, McDermott added. “Supporting our student-athletes’ mental wellness is a priority for our department.”

Lastly, Harvard Athletics and Harvard College will introduce “a leadership academy program” for students who hold College leadership roles, such as team captains. The program aims to teach student leaders “how to lead in a way that promotes positive cultural norms, is centered in our core values, and helps them to navigate challenging situations and difficult conversations.”

“The changes that we are undertaking to accomplish these initiatives will underscore and support our values, which are more important than ever,” McDermott wrote in her statement. “We—I—must do more to ensure that every student-athlete feels supported in this community.”

Read more articles by Ryan Doan-Nguyen

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