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Women's Basketball Alumni, Delaney-Smith Reunite to Discuss Gender Equity and Leadership

Reunion Tour
Tuesday night's panel included Coach Kathy Delaney-Smith and five of her former teammates.
In a crowded late-night audience filled with familiar faces and old friends, Harvard women’s basketball coach Kathy Delaney-Smith and five former teammates shared their thoughts around gender and leadership in the arena of basketball and beyond.

Among those in the panel of alumni included Jessica Gelman ‘97, MBA ‘02, CEO of the Kraft Analytics Group; Megan Song ’98, former Harvard College Admission Officer; Hana Peljto Cluff ‘04, Vice President, Applied Analytics Solutions, Warner Media; Lindsay Miller ‘08, former assistant coach and current BU Master’s Candidate in Clinical Counseling and Sports Psychology; and Kit Metoyer ’16, Criminal Financial Investigator, Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. The event was moderated by David Tannenwald ’08 of Harvard Magazine, who in conjunction with this talk released a piece entitled “An Authentic Act.”

In addition, almost the entire current team was present, seated in the front row at the Worklab in Central Square. The panel discussion revolved largely around the connectivity of female athlete empowerment to broader societal challenges facing gender equity and representation in the workforce.

Numerous panelists reflected on the impact that Coach Delaney-Smith — an outspoken advocate for gender equality who filed four anti-discrimination lawsuits while a coach at Westwood High in the 1970s and has voiced displeasure over pay differences in the coaching ranks — had on their own self-discovery and confidence as a woman in society.

“I looked at early on in my career where people would say, ‘You can’t do that or you’re not ready for that position,’” Gelman said. “I think in general [and] specifically for women, that’s a consistent theme which is, ‘you have to be able to do the work before you get the role.’ That’s not how Kathy [Delaney-Smith] taught us, which is there is a confidence thing too...to understand you can raise you hand and say you want to do more. I think that’s something that Kathy really preached.”

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Delaney-Smith noted how she was a “bull in a china shop” initially as a high-school coach, but maintained a passion for her job and has stayed at Harvard for 37 seasons because of her platform to shift notions of female athletes and women in general.

“You guys can change the world,” said Delaney-Smith as she looked at her team. “That’s why I stayed at Harvard, as long as I have the talent in this room, the brainpower, motivation, and drives. I hope I can pass the baton to you, to know that, be that, and do that.”

At one point in the discussion, Delaney-Smith asked all of the male attendees in the audience to stand as a demonstration of how boys at a young age are taught to embrace confidence, while girls are instead ingrained with lessons of modesty and self-effacement.

“I ask every single recruit, ‘What’s your greatest strength?’”, Delaney-Smith said. “It’s better now, but they are very uncomfortable telling me what they are good at. I say, ‘What are your weaknesses?’ and I have a list for a half-hour.”

Miller, who is pursuing her postgraduate studies in psychology, added that this lack of embracing a positive identity has led teenage girls to lose a sense of their true selves. She noted that Delaney-Smith has exemplified the ability to “know who she is” at all times.

“I think we don’t have as many choices in our society today to choose authenticity,” Miller said. “We are more and more on this path either driven by the common app or by social media on what we’re supposed to be like...I think all of us have learned from Kathy this idea for going for comfort or greatness. You can choose comfort or greatness, but you can’t choose both.”

The open-ended portion of the talk concluded with Delaney-Smith emphasizing the need for increased financial and fan support for women’s sporting events, which despite the progress made since her earlier career continues to be a significant hurdle in the sports world. She called on collective assistance from all individuals, including “male allies.”

“You do more men’s events, you spend more time, energy, and effort on those events because they’re easier,” Delaney-Smith commented. “That’s the reality of the world. You think we should have equal pay, [but] where are we going to get the money from? I don’t have a simple answer for that, but I think the world needs to be comparable, period.”

On the hardwood, the women’s basketball team will head back on the road for Columbia-Cornell in the last of five games on the road, before returning back to Lavietes Pavilion for an all-important homestand with Princeton and Penn. Harvard currently holds a 3-1 record in Ivy play, and are looking for its first Ivy championship in 12 seasons.

— Staff writer Henry Zhu can be reached at henry.zhu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Zhuhen88.

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