Written Senior Perspective - Schuyler Bailar, Men's Swimming and Diving

Photo By Gil Talbot
Photo By Gil Talbot

The 2019 Senior Perspectives is the 14th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.

Schuyler Bailar
Pforzheimer House
Harvard Men's Swimming and Diving
Concentration: Psychology: Cognitive Neuro and Evolution

I was originally recruited to swim for Harvard women’s swimming by Stephanie Morawski. A year after my commitment, I came out to Steph as transgender. Steph conferred with the men’s coach, Kevin Tyrrell, who then offered me a spot on the men’s team. I was very hesitant to accept this offer: I would be doing something no one else had previously done, I was terrified of throwing away my potential as a female swimmer, and I was afraid the other guys would not accept me. Kevin and Steph encouraged me to meet the men’s team members. Surprising to me, they were incredibly welcoming and did their best to make me comfortable.

Throughout this process, Steph repeatedly emphasized: “I am not advising you only as a swim coach. I’m talking to you as a parent, as a mom. I can’t let you on this team without giving you other options to potentially be happier. In the end, I want you to be happy. And, I also know, happy swimmers are fast swimmers.”

In 2015, I joined the men’s team and became the first openly transgender athlete to compete on any NCAA DI men’s team. My experience has only deepened my belief that the coaches care about us as people first, and then as swimmers. Kevin begins each team meeting by reminding us we are not only here to achieve excellence in the pool and in the classroom, we are here first and foremost to become good men, good human beings. He is earnest and wholehearted in his commitment to encourage exemplary humanity in each of us.

Neither Steph nor Kevin were required to offer the option to swim on the men’s team. It would have been in Steph’s best interest to keep me on her team, I was the fastest breaststroker she had recruited. Kevin had never previously interacted with any other trans athletes and had no idea what bringing me on the team would mean. And yet, both coaches put aside these obstacles and prioritized my well-being and my humanity.

Admittedly, this could have been a complete disaster, but it was not. Instead, Kevin and I maintained open communication about how best to support me, and I swam best times each year. My team rallied around me, learning and growing together. Last week, we posted a picture of the entire team in support of trans and queer athletes. This was monumental. Many people thought that allowing me to compete on this team would put the entire program at risk. Instead, we have won three consecutive championship titles, and we are currently the winningest team in more than 60 years of Harvard men’s swimming and diving history. Of course, this is not strictly attributable to my presence, but rather, a result of the entire team rallying around each other. It is the result of a brotherhood unmatched.

It is no accident that as we have grown stronger together – more inclusive and welcoming to all identities – we have also become more successful as a team. Many studies show that the more a person feels they are able to bring their whole selves to work, to the classroom, or to their sport, the more effective they will be in each arena. My team and the Harvard swimming and diving coaching staff make space for each of us to bring our full selves to practice every day, and the championship titles are proof that this is not insignificant.

I have never been more proud to be a part of any other group of people. Perhaps my team is unique in our ability to welcome others from many different identities, but I hope not. Still, if that is so, I hope we can be the example others can follow.