July 3, 2019

Women's hockey team first to complete month-long training program around sexual violence

Dinos Athletics partners with sexual violence support advocate to launch new initiative addressing violence, consent, gender and hazing

Opening up about serious topics like sexual violence can be challenging, especially among tight-knit groups like sports teams. This year, the University of Calgary’s women’s hockey team stepped up to the challenge and became the first of Dinos Athletics to participate in a formal training program addressing sexual violence in sport.

Facilitated by Carla Bertsch,  the university’s sexual violence support advocate, over the course of a month the team completed a comprehensive training program tackling complex issues including sexual violence, gender socialization, consent and hazing.

“Carla gave us a toolkit to have open conversations about difficult topics. The program brought our team closer together and the skills we learned will directly transfer to our on-ice performance,” says Paige Michalenko, fifth-year sociology student and captain of the Dinos women’s hockey team.

“As an athlete myself, I know sports culture can be problematic at times. Athletes have social capital and are often expected to fulfil leadership roles whether they have proper training and support or not,” says Bertsch. “I’m excited to work with the athletics department and support our young leaders — they have a lot of potential to be part of the change that will help create a safer and more inclusive campus.”  

Players and coaches see long-term benefits on and off the ice

“Talking about consent and statistics probably hit the hardest with our team,” says Michalenko. “Hearing that one in three women experience sexual violence was shocking — it’s hard to wrap your head around and as a team of women, it really opened up our eyes to the seriousness of the issue and the importance of having open conversations about consent and sexuality. Knowing we have done this work together gives us the confidence to be able to support one another.”

Though training sessions were closed to coaches, giving the players space to be vulnerable with Bertsch, head coach Danielle Goyette believes the program was a valuable investment that will set her team up for success, on-ice and off.

“It can be hard for players to open up with coaches — they don’t want their personal lives to affect their ice time,” Goyette says. “Racism, homophobia, gender and sexual violence are sensitive topics that have received a lot of attention in the media lately. Society often looks to sport for leadership and by bringing an expert like Carla in to educate our players, we’re giving them the tools they need to be leaders among university athletes and peer groups.”

Assistant coach Alison Goodman adds that the topics addressed by Bertsch will establish more cohesion among team members, especially following the second cycle of training that returning players and rookies will participate in with Bertsch later this summer.

Dinos Athletics to launch formal sexual violence program across all teams

Following the success of the pilot program, Jason Kerswill, director of Dinos athletics is working with Bertsch to launch formalized training among all university teams, a move that would put UCalgary at the forefront of sexual violence education and prevention in post-secondary sport.

“First and foremost we want all of our athletes to feel like they’re competing in a safe and supportive environment. If we’re lacking education around topics like sexual violence and hazing, we’re not fully servicing our athletes or our community,” says Kerswill.

“Our vision is for all of our teams to take part in this program. Schools are doing bits and pieces of education, but with Carla’s leadership we have an opportunity to be leaders in this space and set a standard for other institutions to replicate on their campuses.”

If you think you have experienced sexual violence, or know someone who has, visit the Sexual Violence Support website for campus and community resources. You can also arrange a confidential consultation with Carla Bertsch, the university’s sexual violence support advocate, by confidential email

This project is funded thanks to support from SU Quality Money.