Growing up playing boy’s ice hockey was incredible for Nikki Harnett in her development as a goaltender, but her mental health suffered.
“Hockey has not always been the most welcoming place. I know that as a woman and a queer person, and I’ve seen it with my teammates of color,” said Harnett, who will be a junior goalie for New Hampshire and hopes to become a civil rights attorney. “I want to change this sport to make a change in someone’s life.”
“My commissioner colleagues and myself had in-depth conversations about what was happening in our country, on our campuses, and how college hockey might fit into the picture,” said Jennifer Flowers, Western Collegiate Hockey Association vice president and women’s league commissioner for the conference.
In September, Flowers and Harnett were among a passionate group of 27 student-athletes, coaches and administrators who began meeting every other week to define sustainable and realistic ways to champion cultural change across the college hockey community. This group would form a committee now known as College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“We need to take responsibility for not stepping up and changing the culture sooner,” said Harnett, who also serves on the Student-Athlete Committee on Mutual Respect at New Hampshire. “We still have some work to do to make a change in the sport and get everyone on board.”
During its first news conference in February, CH4DEI shared its mission statement: to create positive cultural change across college hockey through communication, education, allyship and advocacy. The group, which includes representatives from each of the 11 Division I and National Collegiate hockey conferences, works together for a better tomorrow in the sport, one shift at a time.
Since the news conference, CH4DEI has narrowed its collective focus on spreading social justice awareness into three areas of the game.
First, the initiative wants college hockey programs to have conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion that haven’t been had in the sport. Flowers says CH4DEI recognizes that it “must do a better job of internally educating coaches and staff on these topics to better communicate with their players and staff and learn where players feel safe and not safe.”
The second focus for CH4DEI is educating the rest of the college hockey fan base on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“That’s a unique thing about hockey: We have a very passionate, very loyal subset of people that follow the sport,” Flowers said. “We want not only diversity on the ice and behind the bench; we want diversity in the stands.”
“This initiative would have made the recruiting process easier because players — especially players of color — wouldn’t have to be thinking about being accepted for who they were if they knew that there are people supporting them and that they’re not coming into (college athletics) alone.”
— Nikki Harnett
Originally from Bogota, Colombia, the 2021 graduate who played defense for Bemidji State was adopted into a white family from Minnesota at an early age. While Kampa acknowledges how relocating to the “state of hockey” gave her access to the sport she may not have had if she stayed in Colombia, she does think there are still areas in which to diversify hockey in her home state.
“If I wasn’t in Minnesota, who knows if I would have played hockey. But even in Minnesota, there are a lot of BIPOC kids that are interested in the game,” Kampa said of the youth in the state who are Black, Indigenous and people of color. “They just don’t know how to get involved and get the training they need to move on to the next levels.”
“A lot of times in hockey, you’re cast as the robotic character of ‘driven athlete with no personality or opinions outside of hockey,’ and I challenge that,” Weatherby said. “Hockey is for everyone. We’re people first and athletes second.”
At North Dakota’s season-opening game Dec. 2, Weatherby and teammate Jacob Bernard-Docker knelt for the national anthem in solidarity with the victims of race-related acts of hate and other social injustices from the past summer. Weatherby uses his platform as an elite athlete in the sport — specifically as a white male with real prospects of playing professional hockey — to bring awareness not to his accolades but social issues.
“Being in my position, especially because hockey is very white and male-dominated, I believe this initiative is an opportunity to shine a light on how we as a sport can break that mold,” he said.