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No Extensions for Racism: Change the Name

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On January 30, Principal Suzanne Fortier sent the student body an email with an update on the R*dmen renaming process. In her email, she stated that she alone would make the decision about renaming by the end of the term. Fortier’s decision follows the release of final reports from both the Provost’s Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education and the Working Group on Principles of Commemoration and Renaming. Both reports aimed to explicitly discuss how the experiences of Indigenous students on campus can be improved. The final report of the Task Force, released in 2017, called for the “University to begin a process of consultation inside McGill, and with other relevant external organizations […] with the goal of renaming McGill male varsity teams.” It also emphasized “the pressing importance […] of moving forward under a McGill team name that breaks with the associations that ‘R*dmen’ evokes in contemporary society.” Both Fortier and the Working Group ignored the Task Force’s call to action.

Subsequently, in December 2018, the administration received the final report of the Working Group. Unlike the Task Force, the Working Group never provided a concrete statement of approval or disapproval of the name of the men’s varsity teams. An email sent on December 21, 2018, regarding a meeting of the Board of Governors, announced that a decision on the name change would be made in January. Fortier’s latest email contradicts that earlier statement, and further delays a decision. The administration’s bureaucratic procedures and multiple empty emails give the illusion of progress to the student body while doing nothing substantial. Fortier’s email perpetuates the racism of the name and insults student activism. Moreover, the only reason for delaying a decision is that the students who have, and continue to, mobilize, will eventually graduate, or lose momentum in their efforts.

The Working Group’s final report also noted that several major donors expressed attachment to the R*dmen name. In the report, donors stated that if the name was changed, “they would never again donate to McGill, they would discourage their children from applying to McGill, [and] they would ‘consider McGill dead to [them].’” The administration is failing its students by focusing on the monetary implications of changing the name instead of addressing its inherent racism. Further, Fortier’s email emphasizes consultation with “key stakeholders,” such as athletes and alumni. This dismisses the racism experienced by Indigenous students, as they are the only real “stakeholders” in this situation.

The final reports call for consultation with Indigenous students and organizations both on- and off-campus. In reality, these groups have already made their opinion clear: the name needs to change. SSMU Indigenous Affairs has campaigned all year to change the name. Tomas Jirousek, the SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner, wrote an open letter to the administration where he stated that “the University’s tokenization of Indigenous people and initiatives to ‘Indigenize’ in order to defend the continued usage of the R*dmen name is morally reprehensible at best.” The Indigenous Student Alliance released a statement last November in support of SSMU Indigenous Affairs’ “Change the Name” campaign. The student body as a whole also supports a name change: on November 12, SSMU released the results of the “‘R*dmen referendum question,” in which 78.8 per cent of those who voted wanted the name to be changed. The report’s emphasis on further “consultation” is part of the administration’s attempt to delay the renaming process and ignore concerns from Indigenous students and groups that have already spoken.

In Fortier’s email, she asserted that she, and only she, will make the final decision concerning the name change by the end of the academic term. Fortier had the possibility to use her influence to push for a rapid change of the name after Indigenous students made their needs clear. Instead, as Shanon Fitzpatrick, Assistant Professor and supporter of the “Change the Name” campaign, explains, “[Fortier] has granted herself (by fiat) additional ‘time and space’ to consider the ‘opinions’ of various ‘stakeholders.’” The problem with Fortier assuming full responsibility for the decision is that she hasn’t shown any real concern for the demands of students and seems perfectly comfortable being complicit in preserving the toxic and racist history of McGill.

Fortier herself told us that “if you have yet to add your voice to the conversation, you can do so through the online form.” State your discontent and rally against the administration’s ongoing racism by attending Senate meetings. Enough is enough: the administration can no longer ignore the name’s racism in order to appease donors.