Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Why is Action Research necessary?

          Although RVL is a supportive and inclusive team, it has not always been this way and still is not always a positive group to be a part of. In the past, poor leadership among upperclassmen has made it hard for younger girls to become invested and involved in the rowing community. When the upperclassmen who are my mentors and have made my freshmen year enjoyable were younger, conflict surrounding the “weight culture” of RVL was hostile and resulted in poor mental health of younger girls.
          In an interview with my former teammate, Marina Felix, these issues came to light. “Weight culture” is the values and behaviors which exist due to weekly weigh- ins during racing season when each rower must weigh 130 pounds or less. Marina expressed her struggles as a freshman when most members of the team were overweight. Having come to Harvard with two national titles under her belt, an appropriate body weight for the sport, and overwhelming excitement to race and win, it was a shock to Marina to face older girls who were distant and looked “like corpses,” having cut so much weight, on race day.
          Marina did not connect with older girls her freshman year because her approach to rowing, though healthier, was much different from the pre-existing culture on the team. Rather than racing to win, RVL was “racing to the scale.” At some point, Marina was told that if she did not gain weight (to be large enough to compete with the larger girls in the fastest boat), she would never be in the fastest boat. So, Marina gained weight and consequently faced anxiety, insomnia, and obsessive dieting. She did all of this without real guidance or support from her teammates. Incidentally, Marina stopped rowing her sophomore year. 

          With unique circumstances regarding the weight requirements of lightweight rowing, it is imperative that the Harvard- Radcliffe Lightweight rowing team can employ peer mentorship to combat the negative impact of weight culture on individual success in college. With looming weigh- ins and a competitive team environment, every incoming freshman risks their mental health by being on the team. However, lightweight rowing can be an entirely positive addition to a college student’s life. An informed, supported young athlete will succeed at rowing and at college life. So, action research is necessary to determine the most effective method of creating relationships among teammates that will benefit each athlete individually and ultimately, the team as a whole.

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