The Redmen Referendum: What’s Next?

A Month After Student Vote, McGill Provost Announces Decision Will Be Made in January

  • Student protested under the rain earlier this fall, calling for McGill’s varsity name the Redmen to be changed. File Photo Elaine Genest

It’s been a month since McGill students stood the rain to protest the university’s varsity sports team’s name, the Redmen. Weeks later, students voted 78 per cent in favour to change the name entirely.

On Dec. 7, McGill’s provost Christopher Manfredi released an official message.

“The principles from the final report will be applied in the first instance to the question of renaming of our men’s varsity teams, the Redmen. A decision concerning next steps with respect to the Redmen name will be communicated in January 2019.”

More than 5,800 students participated in the vote, organized by the Student Society of McGill University’s Indigenous Affairs Committee. At the center of the charge was Tomas Jirousek, commissioner of Indigenous Affairs for SSMU and a member of the varsity rowing team.

Jirousek launched a petition and got more than 10,000 signatures to change the name.

“The Redmen name will be changed,” Jirousek said. “The administration has already agreed to it. Anything other than changing the name would be a dereliction of duty.”

Manfredi refused to comment any further on the changing of the name, with his office continuing to stand by the provost’s original message from October.

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The October address from the chief academic officer acted as a blanket statement on the current climate regarding the name; explaining while the provost understands the offensive nature of the name, there are also things in motion to rectify the problem, namely the provost’s Taskforce on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education from 2017, which has called for a renaming of the men’s varsity teams.

The provost also made sure to defend the “athletic tradition” of the Redmen name.

“I am also aware of, and acknowledge, the affinity that many of our community members feel towards the Redmen name,” writes Manfredi. “McGill’s student athletes, past and present, have brought significant pride and honour to our University for generations.”

The provost’s most recent message points to the Working Group on Principles of Commemoration and Renaming, a committee that was formed to consult the greater McGill community, and develop a set of principles that will guide the university’s future decisions on renaming and commemoration.

In the working group’s final report, an Indigenous student attending McGill said “despite my efforts to make space for myself, I still feel like a ghost, like an erased pencil mark.”

An Indigenous student athlete also stated that seeing the Redmen jerseys in the gym felt like a dagger and that being called a Redman makes him sick, according to the report.

The provost made it clear that the working group’s final report will be what the administration relies on to guide their decision on the Redmen name, as well as other renaming and commemoration decisions around McGill.

According to the working group’s co-chair, Anja Geitmann, the Redmen vote did not play any factor in changing the final report.

“The working group was not mandated to take any decision on the Redman name,” Geitmann wrote. “The vote has not caused us to change the report that was submitted.”

Geitmann assured that while the vote had no direct relation to her committee’s work, the opinions and sentiments of student groups connected to the school were taken into consideration.

While the vote itself did bring a large amount of attention to the issue, now the wait for the administration’s decision next month begins.

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