Students are still waiting on a final verdict from the administration regarding a potential change to the men’s varsity team name. In an email sent to students in January, Principal Suzanne Fortier stated that she would communicate her decision by the end of this term. She has yet to release a decision.
“I honestly am very optimistic that it will be changed within the next month. In any other circumstances I wouldn’t believe this to be true, but I really do think that we’ve crossed our t’s and dotted our i’s here,” explains Tomas Jirousek, a varsity athlete, SSMU’s current Indigenous Affairs Commissioner, and a major figure behind the Change the Name Movement. “I think this current manifestation of Indigenous students pushing on the R*dmen name is one of the best shots we’ve taken at changing it in quite a while,” he added.
The Change the Name movement has received overwhelming support from the McGill community during this academic year. On October 31, hundreds of students supporting the #ChangeTheName campaign participated in a demonstration in front of the James Administration building. During the 2018 SSMU Fall Referendum, 80 per cent of students said they were in favour of renaming the men’s varsity teams. More recently, a large banner that read “Change the Name” was hung from the roof of Leacock before being removed by security in a matter of minutes.
“The type of support we’ve received really shows how powerful we can be as a community when we stand together,” says Jirousek. The banner drop took place during the voting period for the proposed Athletics Facility Improvement Fee, a fee to which the Indigenous Student Alliance, and other equity groups on campus, are strongly opposed to.
The Athletics Facility Improvement Fee, included in the Winter 2019 SSMU referendum, asked if students are willing to continue paying ten dollars per semester for Athletics Facility Improvement, justifying the fee by arguing that “athletics and recreation is an integral part of student life on campus.” The “No” campaign pointed out that “the approval of the Athletics Facility Improvement Fee would only enable McGill athletics and further limit Indigenous students from using facilities which are meant to be open and accessible to all McGill students.” Fifty-eight per cent of students voted “No,” 42 “Yes,” and 20.7 per cent abstained.
“Part of the reason why I pushed so hard for this ‘No’ vote was because I don’t think it’s fair or appropriate that Indigenous students are left out in the cold while the other students move forward without us. If we are going to invest in renovating and fixing the athletics facilities it should be done in a way that’s equitable, in a way that’s open to all students,” explained Jirousek.
At the March 28 meeting of SSMU Legislative Council, former VP External Conor Spencer read a statement on behalf of Tomas Jirousek, and Christelle Tessono, president of the Black Students’ Network. The statement explains that by letting this question be a part of the winter referendum, SSMU has failed “in its mandate to stand as an ally with Indigenous students at McGill.” By including the question, SSMU failed to realize that “McGill athletics complexes exist as physically hostile environments for Indigenous students […] [the racism of the R*dmen name] is physically manifested in these athletic facilities.”
“Reconciliation sometimes requires sacrifice,” Spencer concluded.
While they attribute most of their success to the widespread support they have gathered on campus, Change the Name leaders recognize that the increasing awareness surrounding the need for reconciliation at a larger scale has given them precious momentum.
“Voices are starting to come out. In recent years, we’ve seen Indigenous voices really coming through in the media. It’s a time when we had the right people in the right place. You had a team of students that were really passionate about it and they saw an opportunity, in this day and age where we can actually talk about these things,” points out co-chair of the Indigenous Students Alliance and varsity athlete Vanessa Racine.