Harvard Welcomes First Openly Transgender Collegiate Swimmer

Photo courtesy of Ray Yeager
Photo courtesy of Ray Yeager

-- By Bob Scalise, The John D. Nichols '53 Family Director of Athletics

Some of you may have seen the recent 60 Minutes piece featuring one of our student-athletes, Schuyler Bailar. Schuyler is a freshman breaststroker on our men's swimming and diving team, and his journey to Cambridge is a unique one.

Schuyler was originally recruited to swim at Harvard in 2013 by Stephanie Morawski '92, the Costin Family Head Coach for Harvard Women's Swimming & Diving. Hailing from McLean, Virginia, Schuyler was a top women's swimming recruit nationally and had the potential to set new records for Coach Morawski's program.

After being accepted to Harvard, Schuyler took a gap year before enrolling. During this time, he sought counseling for some very personal issues with which he had long grappled—and ultimately chose to begin living openly as a man.

When Schuyler arrived at Harvard, under NCAA rules, he would have been permitted to continue to compete as a female swimmer. Coach Morawski recognized, however, that it might be difficult for Schuyler to live as a woman in the pool but as a man on campus. She and Kevin Tyrrell, the Ulen-Brooks Endowed Coach for Harvard Men's Swimming & Diving, proposed that the consistency of swimming on the men's team might better serve Schuyler in his life moving forward. Coach Tyrrell and his team didn't hesitate to accept Schuyler into their program, prompting an unprecedented situation in the history of both Harvard Athletics and Division I Swimming.

A highly competitive athlete, Schuyler understood that on the women's team, he had the chance to be a top swimmer within the Ivy League. On the men's side, however, he would sacrifice that prospect, knowing that he would likely be much further down Harvard's roster. Ultimately, he decided that the opportunity to live authentically and identify as male, both in and out of the pool, was more meaningful than the chance to set records.

This past fall, Schuyler began training and competing with the men's team while starting hormone therapy, as allowed under NCAA rules. He is the first openly transgender athlete at Harvard and has helped educate all of us regarding this evolving issue—we are grateful for Schuyler's courage and openness. In working through these circumstances, we took into account the needs and perspectives of many of our potentially-affected community members, including Schuyler's future teammates, his coaches and the recreational swimmers who share the facilities at Blodgett Pool.

Coach Tyrrell and his team have welcomed Schuyler to their program, where he is treated like any other student-athlete—with the expectation that he will work hard in the pool and in the classroom. Schuyler has now almost completed his freshman year and is facing challenges. Fortunately, they are the same issues encountered by most freshman student-athletes—things like narrowing down his academic interests, and effectively managing his time when his day begins in the pool at 6:30 a.m.   

We engaged in many conversations in order to better understand the complexity of Schuyler's situation.  We are confident that we fully considered the related issues with the interests of all stakeholders in mind. As a department, we continue to learn and proudly strive to reflect Harvard's spirit of inclusiveness.