April 12, 2019
Dear members of the McGill community,
In January, I committed to reaching a decision on the Redmen name before the end of the academic year. Today, I write to share my decision with you.
Over these past months, I have read and reflected on the McGill community’s varied perspectives on the issue. I have heard heartfelt and thoughtful views from students, faculty, staff, and alumni, including current and former athletes and Indigenous community members. Many people sent messages directly to me; others made their voices heard by writing to members of McGill’s senior leadership, or through open letters, votes, petitions, and other means. I have read all these messages, and I am grateful to the hundreds of people who shared their views.
I also sought and considered advice from across the University community—including students, staff and faculty, as well as key stakeholders, including members of the Indigenous and alumni communities—on how to address the matter of the Redmen name.
I considered the final report of the Working Group on Principles of Commemoration and Renaming, and gave its principles and recommendations close consideration. I also consulted the Working Group’s co-chairs, Deans Anja Geitmann and Robert Leckey, specifically about the process for reaching a decision about the Redmen name. Their report recommends that an arm’s length committee consider matters of commemoration or renaming. In the case of the Redmen name, however, the co-chairs advised me not to establish such a committee, in light of the high degree of community participation in discussions organized by the Working Group and the Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education, as well as other opportunities for expressing views and opinions.
The University’s principles and values— academic freedom, integrity, responsibility, equity and inclusiveness—are steadfast. They define who we are as a community. They must therefore ground my decision about whether to change the Redmen name.
The name of our men’s varsity teams has generated extensive debate in our community. Throughout, I have reminded myself of the wise advice of Principal emeritus Bernard Shapiro, who, in a recent talk on free speech, emphasized that the importance of debate is “not to win, but to learn.”
Over the recent months, I have learned about the true depths of the pride that our student-athletes and alumni feel for the rich tradition and history of varsity sports at McGill. They feel a rightful sense of achievement. They are proud, too, of the loyalty, resilience, leadership, teamwork and friendships that mark their time in varsity sports. Many of them feel a strong attachment to their team name. Our student-athletes and alumni are proud, with good reason, of achieving athletic success alongside academic success.
At the same time, I have learned about the true depths of the pain caused by the Redmen name. I have heard from Indigenous students at McGill who feel alienated by the name. They feel disrespected and unconsidered. They feel conflicted over their rightful pride in being Indigenous people, and their pride in being McGill students. This tension is even stronger for Indigenous student-athletes.
All these feelings come from lived experiences. These feelings are strong, valid and real.
Neither language, nor perceptions of language, are fixed; they change as the world changes. McGill did not adopt the Redmen name as a reference to North American Indigenous peoples. However, the name has been associated with Indigenous peoples at different points in our history. Today, “Redmen” is widely acknowledged as an offensive term for Indigenous peoples, as evidenced by major English dictionaries. While this derogatory meaning of the word does not reflect the beliefs of generations of McGill athletes who have proudly competed wearing the University’s colours, we cannot ignore this contemporary understanding. Intention, however benign, does not negate prejudicial effect. Inclusion and respect are at the core of our University’s principles and values; pejoratives run contrary to who we are as a community.
For these reasons, the Redmen name is not one that our community would choose today, and it is not one that McGill should carry forward into our third century.
Effective today, McGill University’s men’s varsity teams will cease to be called the Redmen. I have asked Prof. Fabrice Labeau, Interim Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning), to establish a steering committee to lead a consultative process for choosing a new name that everyone can wear, and cheer for, with pride. The committee will engage our varsity athletes, and the broader McGill community. Details about this process will be communicated in the months ahead. It will take time for our community to decide upon a new team name that honours our long history of athletic achievement, but we will get there. For the 2019-2020 athletic season, the men’s varsity teams will be known as the McGill teams. The University will announce a new name in time for the 2020-2021 season.
Just as the world changes, the McGill community grows and evolves. Evolution does not mean erasing history. McGill is, and will continue to be, proud of its history and tradition of athletic achievements and excellence. That history lives on, and the tradition will continue to thrive. Together, guided by our shared commitment to equity, inclusiveness and respect, we will determine our way forward.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor