Around the Yard: Women of Harvard Athletics

Photo of founders of the group Women of Harvard Athletics

Mackenzie Barta, Madison Earle and Olivia Ostrover
Seniors
Women's Basketball, Field Hockey

What is "Women of Harvard Athletics" and what are the goals of the organization?
Our names are Madison Earle, Mackenzie Barta, and Olivia Ostrover, and we are three student-athletes from the Class of 2020. This year, we are starting a new organization at Harvard called the Women of Harvard Athletics, and our purpose is two-fold. First, we want to address the most pressing problems faced by female athletes. These include topics like mental health, body image, nutrition, sexual harassment, and the lack of fan attendance. Secondly, we want to build a community of support within and beyond the Harvard community. We aim to connect athletes with other current athletes on campus but also those that have already graduated.

The name of our organization is important, but it also needs clarification. We have a female-focus because we believe that female athletes experience adversities both on and off the field that our male counterparts simply do not have to. That being said, our club is open to anyone and everyone regardless of their chosen gender pronouns. Furthermore, we invite athletes of all levels and backgrounds to join; this includes varsity, intramural, and club sports, but also, dancers, ROTC members, runners, and yogis. We have ambitious goals, and to achieve them, we need as many different people from as many different backgrounds as possible.

How did you decide to put this in motion, what steps did you need to take to make this group a reality?
This organization started as nothing more than a few sentences, jotted down on a notepad in July of this past summer. After exchanging a variety of texts and emails with each other, we decided to create a formal flyer titled Women of Harvard Athletics, and we sent it to as many of our friends as we could. After that, we reached out to the two Associate Directors of Harvard Athletics, Andrea Lapointe and Christian Bray. With our small team in place, we made a plan to make this dream a reality. In the two short months since then, we have received funding, have applied for formal student recognition, and have already held out first event. We are off to a great start, and this is only the beginning.

What was the first event like? How many people, what did you come away with?
Our first gathering was an opening reception on Saturday, September 14th at the Beat Brew Hall in Harvard Square. This was an opportunity for people to learn more about WHA, and how they could get involved. More importantly, it was an event for female athletes to meet other female athletes. Person after person approached us to say “Wow, I thought I knew so many other athletes, but this proved tonight how many I had yet to meet.” This is no surprise considering we had over 200 female athletes in attendance, across all four grades, and from over 10 teams.

What are your plans for the group going forward? Any more events coming up?
In terms of what we are doing now, we have just accepted applications for our executive board and are actively planning a variety of events. The next will take place on October 16th from 7:30 to 8:30pm. During this time, Sandy Golinkin will be coming to speak about how to get your dream job, particularly those outside of finance and consulting. Sandy’s workshop will focus on topics such as how to brand yourself as an individual, and how to start a career in these alternative spaces. Sandy herself was a former employee for the Rolling Stone Magazine, Travel and Leisure, and Allure, so we are thrilled to hear from someone with her experience.

The dates of our other future events are still being discussed, but they include a nutritional talk and juice tasting from the Senior Manager at Juice Press (who was a former women’s professional basketball player in Europe), a Yoga and Meditation class with a Nike trainer, and an alumni career panel with former student-athletes.

Why do you think it’s important for female-identifying student-athletes to have a group specifically dedicated to advocating for their interests?
We believe that this group is needed for female student-athletes because although women are not a minority in athletics, they are often underrepresented. They do not get the same media coverage, the same funding, nor the same fan attendance at their games as do many male teams. Furthermore, female athletes often have to face struggles that occur at the intersection of their identities of female and athlete. On the one hand, they want to be beautiful, elegant, and polite, but on the other, strong, physical, and competitive. It is why you see so many women in sports struggle with body image and mental health. This group gives those women a voice, but more importantly, a support group of other like-minded individuals. We are only underrepresented if we stay quiet and stand alone. Together, we can and will be heard. 

If student-athletes are reading this and want to get involved, what should they do?
For anyone reading this and wanting to get involved- whether you play a sport at Harvard in any capacity, are a dancer, are a member of ROTC, or just like to be active- email womenofha@gmail.com. You will be subscribed to our email list of all upcoming events and general information.

Anything additional you'd like to share?
We are actively looking to co-sponsor events with other groups on campus, particularly those dedicated to handling issues of nutrition, mental health and wellness, and community service, but so many more not listed. If you are a member of such a group, please reach out at womenofha@gmail.com to brainstorm potential events that we could run together.