Harvard announced Friday that it will not allow student-athletes living off campus to participate in athletics training on-campus next semester, marking the University’s latest effort to regulate life on campus during the coronavirus crisis.
Director of Athletics Erin McDermott wrote in an email to Harvard coaches Friday that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Pandemic Planning and Response Group — chaired by FAS Dean Claudine Gay and comprised of a variety of FAS officials including McDermott — made the decision in order to prioritize on campus students’ ability to use University spaces.
“The rationale is to prioritize students in-residence for any auxiliary spaces,” McDermott wrote. “The in-residence students are being asked to comply with a much stricter compact and the access to other spaces is to provide outlets and additional services to them specifically.”
Harvard’s decision marks a continuation of its protocols this past fall, when only student-athletes residing in Harvard’s dorms partook in socially-distanced training at the athletics complex.
The University has invited juniors and seniors who enrolled last semester to live in Harvard’s dorms for the spring semester, replacing the freshmen who populated them this fall. Administrators also unveiled a color-coded system that will guide reopening phases on campus this spring. The deadline for students to apply for on-campus housing is Dec. 14.
Though Harvard will bar students living off campus from participating in on-campus athletics, FAS has not ruled out the possibility of permitting students living off campus from using Harvard’s facilities to conduct research and other academic activities.
The committee “discussed off-campus students and determined that if or when allowed access to spaces this spring, it would be for academic and research purposes only” McDermott wrote. “No other access will be granted.”
“I know this is disappointing but we now have clarity that seniors and juniors should request housing if they want the ability to train,” McDermott added.
Friday’s decision forced some student-athletes to reconsider their living arrangements for the spring, they said.
Those athletes include baseball player Adam B. Stone ’23, who had intended to live in an off-campus house in Cambridge with his teammates and train at Harvard’s facilities. Stone said he and his teammates have since applied for on-campus housing.
Stone’s teammate Ian A. Buckner ’23 also described the importance of training with his teammates at Harvard.
“Training with all the guys and lifting with them — the intensity you get, the benefit you get from it, the camaraderie — whatever you want to call it just holistically it is, it is unreplicable,” he said.
Still, Stone said he worries his autonomy will be contingent on his peers’ adherence to the University’s health guidelines.
“I don't think that everyone’s gonna be on campus following all the rules,” he said. “If that leads to an outbreak, then it’s not in our control and that would be pretty tough.”
Though Stone, Buckner, and their teammates had yet to finalize housing arrangements for the spring, other athletes had already signed leases off-campus.
Field hockey player Mary K. “Kolbe” Keating ’21, who is renting an apartment in Cambridge with one of her teammates for the academic year, said Harvard’s decision puts some athletes in a bind.
“I signed a 12-month lease originally so living on campus really wasn’t an option from the get-go,” Keating said.
Some student-athletes also said Harvard’s decision signals that it undervalues athletics, citing the decision to potentially allow off campus students to research on campus.
“If it were a scenario that off campus students could do research, but off campus athletes weren’t allowed to utilize practice and utilize the athletic resources, I think that would have been an unfair scenario to athletes,” Keating said. “Not that the two are necessarily like tit-for-tat, but it just kind of shows the disparities between two groups and what resources are considered more important than others.”
Stone also called Harvard’s decision “unreasonable.”
“They open the door for academic purposes, but then don’t even leave the possibility of athletes coming on campus,” he said. “There are gonna be some people that might be allowed on campus, but they’re not even going to consider letting athletes do it.”
Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on athletes’ criticisms. McDermott wrote in her email to coaches that she understands athletes may find Harvard’s decision “disappointing.”
“I know that they have different factors to weigh and now at least they know more about access,” she wrote. “We will focus on what we need to do for those on campus and get as far in the athletic phasing as possible.”
—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.