Commentary  Letter: Vote NO to the Athletics Facility Improvement Fee

A Varsity Rowing Team Athlete's Reasons to Vote No

As a student athlete, I know the effect good facilities have on training. I train at the Montreal Olympic Basin, in a facility designed specifically for my sport, and at the McGill Currie Gym, decidedly non-bespoke. Having been to gyms across Canada, I know how lacking McGill’s Tomlinson and Currie Complex is. They desperately need revamping to make sure McGill maintains excellence in sport and healthy living. However, I know that my team would not be the same without the people we have. So, with one day left in the Referendum Period, we must vote an absolute NO in regards to the renewal of the Athletics Facilities Fee. Let me explain.

I realize what is at stake here. McGill students contribute $10 per student to McGill Athletics, with a committed matching valuation from McGill University augmenting the Athletics revenue to $20 per student. The lack of this funding could be crippling as it would constitute over $500,000 annually. It may mean, in an extreme case, that I cannot row next year and that my team wouldn’t be able to train, as we receive significant funding from McGill and benefit from facilities improvements. I don’t think that this extends that deep. Yet, I would be prepared to accept that; I wouldn’t question it for a second. The reason is we must value a student athlete’s dignity and safety over an improved facility every day. Their value as a person is far higher than any team. My own teammate, Tomas, has been leading this fight at McGill and I know our team would not be the same without him. Tomas and every single Indigenous student at this university deserve respect. The truth and reconciliation report made very explicit the processes required to begin the mere semblance of healing. One of those was the changing of names. McGill University seems to feel this is not urgent enough to take action. So I don’t feel the gym is as critical. It can wait.

I should be clear I cannot speak for my teammates. We as a team have explicitly chosen to dissociate from any usage of the R*dmen name, in favour of simply McGill Men’s and Women’s Rowing. Nor do I want to talk in place of Indigenous persons or take their space. I speak from a definite position of privilege, that much is acknowledged. I compete in a sport in which diversity is few and far between. But where applicable and appropriate I want to make sure we have considered the impression we want to leave.

I am now hearing the line that everyone supports the name change but argues a no vote won’t change the administration. To come from politically savvy individuals makes this all the more concerning. So what do I say to my colleagues who feel that this will not sway the administration? This is a hostage situation, and we will force compliance when it means protecting human rights. There is no rule saying we cannot use similar logic when the end is a benevolent and just reason.

Principal Fortier may very well have reached a decision to change the name in which case, that motion, as well as a motion to flood McGill Athletics with necessary money for improvements as part of a broader campus improvement plan, would take place as part of another campaign. But the reality is she hasn’t done so as of yet, and if we feel this is obvious— that the name must change — and she doesn’t see the apparent nature, then there must be some far more powerful force weighing in opposition: donors.

During McGill24, Athletics was by far the greatest beneficiary, with over $150,000 raised, spread over 17 teams. However, the $20 matched student fee is far higher. If Suzanne Fortier values athletic donors and alumni more than student-athletes and their personhood, then the problem is now too grave. The opposite case will, through the effecting of this NO vote, see her forced hand and require that the name is changed. Anything less would be permanent scorn on this university and its administration.

As the motion makes clear, since 1982, students have contributed to the continued success of athletics, and this makes sense. The will to win must exist. However, you need to ask yourself: do you value your teammates more than the building you use?

I will sleep well at night knowing we stood up for students and this Martlet family over a name and a gym.

This is a definite chance for McGill students to take the upper hand and hold the administration accountable. It is voting NO that leaves a lasting impact.

We take pride in improved facilities and nationally ranked teams. But we will have far greater pride and one hell of a pep rally to celebrate our revised name that covers our improved gym.