BURNABY — It’s hard to remember a span of time over the entire 55-year history of Simon Fraser athletics as emotionally charged as these past three days.
Yet by Friday morning, one sleep after a virtual town hall meeting in which SFU student-athletes spoke their peace to university administration in near-absolute solidarity, voting 97 per cent in favour of replacing the Clan nickname with one its black student-athletes could celebrate unconditionally with the rest of their teammates, the addition of the adjective ‘significant’ to the events of the week seemed especially apropos.
Now, based on that vote of 133 SFU student-athletes, the process to make change while still respecting the university’s Scottish roots, seems well underway.
“I definitely got that feeling,” said Simon Fraser running back Mason Glover, a rising sophomore from Covington, Wash., who was part of Thursday’s Zoom meeting.
“It definitely made me feel good that they are serious about this,” continued Glover, who credits SFU basketball player Othniel Spence, a graduating senior from Markham, Ont., for launching the grassroots movement.
“(SFU athletic administration) didn’t come in and say ‘We are going to look into this’ or ‘We’re going to look into that,’” continued Glover. “It seemed more like ‘We are proposing a name change because we know how the student-athletes feel.’ They listened and they felt how we feel. We felt heard at that point.”
To the point where SFU athletics will dig in its heels over the six weeks leading up to mid-August, at which time it will provide its recommendation to school president Andrew Petter, whose announcement on the decision is expected prior to the start of the fall term in late August.
Coronavirus may have prevented Thursday’s town hall from being an actual face-to-face meeting, yet judging by the level of its effectiveness as a vehicle for open communication, Simon Fraser athletic director Theresa Hanson felt that nothing was lost in the translation despite the evening’s virtual nature.
“The support to change our name has never been this overwhelming,” Hanson said Friday morning. “It’s like nothing I have seen before… nothing the university has seen before.”
With that, Hanson offered her definition of the role that the name of a university’s athletic teams can have when examined in the broadest context.
“It’s my belief that a nickname has the power to unite a community in a positive and just way,” said Hanson. “It reflects our shared values and it reflects our commitment to one another. And what we’re hearing from our student-athletes is that they are not proud to be called the Clan. That is really important.”
Hanson said that a poll conducted by students-athletes in June of 2019, one which showed 77 per cent in favour of a name change, prompted movement on the issue.
“That was key as we go through this process, and I acknowledge the work of the student-athletes who have been advocating for this, and to those who participated in the survey,” said Hanson. “It was the basis to start this formal process.”
To that end, a creative agency had been hired by the university and focus groups had begun work in January before their efforts were stopped by the pandemic.
Clearly, the world has changed a lot since then, and now the process has gained new momentum, spurred through the efforts of Spence, Glover and a large group of SFU student-athletes.
“From my perspective, how this happened is that Othniel came out with the petition and he wrote an article and he made himself very vulnerable at that point,” said Glover of Spence who recounted the challenges he has had to face as a Clan athlete for The Park Journal in a self-penned piece entitled ‘I Am Not Your Clansman’. “We wanted to keep pushing until we got some answers. Othniel and I proposed the change to a lot of team captains from other sports and they took it and ran with it. I am proud of the collective, of the student-athletes who advocated for change, didn’t let the outside stuff influence them, and showed they were really serious about this.”
Wrote Spence in The Park Journal: “This word is traumatizing. It may represent Scottish heritage, but it is dangerously close to the historical wounding of black people in North America. In think our society, as well as the governing body at the university, needs to consider this and respond in an urgent manner. It’s been too long, It’s time.”
Now, over the next month-plus, more important discussions are set to take place.
“We have seven-to-10 groups of stakeholders we are having dialogue with,” said Hanson, referring to the likes of SFU’s student-athletes, coaching staffs, athletic and recreation staff, athletic alumni, university faculty and staff, advancement and alumni relations, as well as various student societies and other groups.
Glover, who knows what it feels like to get good traction with the football tucked under his arm, can say with pride that things are feeling the same way these days as SFU’s student-athletes gain some all-important yards of their own on the road to change.
“I’ve only been here a couple of years, but people have proposed name changes before and it’s kind of been shot down,” he admits. “Now we’re having people speaking to the media, we’re having the admin take notice of our movement. There have been thousands of people show support. It’s blown up into a thing that really they needed to take into consideration. I love it. I love that we are being heard.”
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