The R*dmen name hangs like a shadow over McGill Athletics. As the experiences of those who’ve campaigned to replace the name have shown, the name limits accessibility for Indigenous students and contributes to our sense of isolation on campus. The #ChangeTheName campaign clearly articulates our reasons for a name change, and I am proud of the incredible allyship shown by the student body, professors, and individual athletes who stand with us. Sadly, McGill Athletics has failed to demonstrate this same courage by refusing to change the name or address the concerns of Indigenous students. In light of the #ChangeTheName campaign, students should vote ‘no’ to the proposed Athletics Facility Improvement Fee levy in the upcoming Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter Referendum from March 26to 29.
The Athletics facility remains a hostile environment for Indigenous students, and the improvements to the facility that the fee would fund fail to support an inclusive approach to addressing mental health issues for students on campus. It is nearly impossible for a student to enter the Athletics facility without confronting some manifestation of the name, whether its physical representation or its history and legacy. The Final Report of the Working Group on the Principles of Commemoration and Renaming includes quotes from an Indigenous student expressing that the name makes her feel as if she is a ‘ghost’ and an ‘erased pencil mark’ at McGill. Another Indigenous student described how the name makes him feel ‘sick.’
Given that we, as Indigenous students, feel so excluded by the name, its physical manifestation only isolates us further. While some Indigenous students have been able to reconcile the name’s history and continue to use the space offered by McGill Athletics, we should not have to concede our identities to use a space that is supposed to be available to all students.
As a student athlete myself, I recognize how essential a safe exercise and practice environment is. Even throughout the #ChangeTheName campaign, being a part of the rowing team offered me a sense of stability, and my coaches and teammates have been sources of support. I would love to see improvements to the Athletics facility, but only if these changes benefit the entire McGill community. As it stands, access to the athletic opportunities is limited for Indigenous students at McGill, forcing us to find more expensive and inconvenient spaces for physical activity off-campus.
Our campaign to #ChangeTheName was successful in rallying an impressive 79 per cent vote in support of changing the name during the Fall 2018 SSMU Referendum. This vote powerfully demonstrated that the non-Indigenous student body stands in solidarity with us, proving our collective commitment to the values of inclusivity, respect, and the recognition of Indigenous rights.
We must hold true to those same values that we pushed for in the Fall Referendum. Even though the men’s varsity team name is not on the ballot during this referendum period, there are still opportunities to fight for Indigenous inclusivity. By voting ‘No’ to the Athletics Facility Improvement Fee, we can demonstrate the same commitment to the values that we stood for during the #ChangeTheName campaign.