McGill U re­port stops short of urg­ing name change for teams

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - I NGRID PERITZ

A McGill Univer­sity re­port stops short of rec­om­mend­ing the school drop the con­tentious name of the Red­men sports teams, but says that an act of “re­nam­ing” may be seen as a ges­ture of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

“When a name has be­come prob­lem­atic, re­nam­ing is not the first op­tion. In some cases, re­nam­ing may be the sole sat­is­fac­tory mea­sure,” says the re­port re­leased on Fri­day, which wades into a heated de­bate on cam­pus.

McGill joins other univer­si­ties across North Amer­ica in try­ing to re­assess his­tor­i­cal names whose lega­cies clash with mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties. The is­sue has boiled over with the name of McGill’s var­sity teams, which some Indige­nous stu­dents and some fac­ulty mem­bers found of­fen­sive.

While the re­port by an in­ter­nal work­ing group steers clear of tak­ing a de­fin­i­tive stand, it says the school should con­sider a name change “if the harm of keep­ing a name out­weighs the good.”

“A prac­tice or name that is of­fen­sive, or that over time has be­come of­fen­sive, may pro­duce harm,” says the re­port. “Used ju­di­ciously, re­nam­ing may ac­knowl­edge lessons from his­tory and ges­ture to­wards rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

The re­port lists his­tor­i­cal McGill lu­mi­nar­ies who are draw­ing crit­i­cism to­day, start­ing with univer­sity founder James McGill; he owned black and Indige­nous slaves.

A ma­jor cam­pus build­ing is named for Cana­dian au­thor Stephen Lea­cock, who taught at McGill. Mr. Lea­cock is de­scribed in the Cana­dian En­cy­clo­pe­dia as “at times racist, anti-fem­i­nist and down­right ornery.”

The McGill re­port says names and im­ages on its cam­puses, in­clud­ing sculp­tures and painted por­traits, “may form, col­lec­tively, a mu­seum of priv­i­lege.”

“A num­ber of par­tic­i­pants in our con­sul­ta­tions spoke of the McGill en­vi­ron­ment as em­body­ing not only white priv­i­lege, but also white supremacy,” the re­port says.

Stu­dents voted 79 per cent in fa­vor of drop­ping the team name in a ref­er­en­dum last month.

Dur­ing con­sul­ta­tions, one Indige­nous var­sity ath­lete said “see­ing the Red­men jer­seys in the gym felt like a dag­ger and that be­ing called a Red­man makes him sick.”

Oth­ers vowed to never do­nate to McGill again if the name is changed.

The univer­sity is ex­pected to make a de­ci­sion next month.

“Bring­ing McGill’s com­mem­o­ra­tion and nam­ing prac­tices into line with con­tem­po­rary so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, and eth­i­cal stan­dards will be chal­leng­ing,” the re­port says. “In some cases, it will be con­tro­ver­sial.”

It warns that sev­eral peo­ple voiced a sense of “fa­tigue and cyn­i­cism” be­cause McGill has not acted on pre­vi­ous calls for change.

In an in­ter­view, Michael Nel­son, a for­mer cap­tain of the Red­men hockey team and pres­i­dent of Friends of McGill Hockey, said he would have liked the re­port to note that the name has been dis­as­so­ci­ated from Indige­nous im­agery since the early 1990s, and that some Indige­nous peo­ple sup­port keep­ing it.

“I hope that we’ll keep the name and we’ll ex­plain in de­tail the his­tory,” he said. “McGill has to make its best ef­forts to make a good, rea­soned de­ci­sion.”

To­mas Jirousek , a McGill stu­dent who has led protests against the name, said he was pleased that the re­port “clearly rec­og­nizes McGill’s wrongs to­ward Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.”

“McGill has an obli­ga­tion to rec­tify those wrongs,” said Mr. Jirousek, a mem­ber of the Kainai Na­tion in Al­berta. “This shows that the univer­sity has a choice to make be­tween money, and donors, and Indige­nous stu­dents. And I sin­cerely hope McGill val­ues Indige­nous stu­dents and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion above that of a few donors.”

The name emerged in the 1920s, when sports teams across North Amer­ica were choos­ing Indige­nous names, said Suzanne Mor­ton, a his­tory pro­fes­sor at McGill who re­searched the team name.

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