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uOttawa Black athletes’ anti-racism push expected to influence Gee-Gees’ long-term vision

By Charlie Pinkerton

Months of behind-the-scenes work has begun to come into focus for a nontraditional team of Gee-Gees, with a recent meeting with uOttawa’s executive body signifiying an important — and groundbreaking — step for the athletes-turned-activists.

The Gee-Gees’ Black Student-Athletes Advocacy Council (BSAAC) teamed with the athletics department for a meeting with Jacques Frémont, uOttawa’s president, and the university’s larger central administration in April, where they presented their multi-year anti-racism strategic plan.

BSAAC and athletics pitched a number of ideas seeking to improve equity, diversity and inclusion within varsity athletics. Proposals included prioritizing Black and other radicalized hires, providing unconscious-bias training for staff, establishing needs-based bursaries and a creating a Black Alumni Fund to support Black student-athletes.

Sue Hylland, the head of the Gee-Gees athletics department, told the Sports Pages in May that what’s expected next is that certain elements of the anti-racism plan will be interwoven into Gee-Gees athletics five-year departmental strategic plan.

“I know that equity, diversity and inclusion will be a critical piece, as we move forward,” Hylland said. “So, my goal is that we can take the anti-racism plan, and we’re going to tweak it and identify priorities … and then we want to link it into our overall planning.”

Looking even further ahead, the BSAAC hopes to continue to establish itself, and widen the influence it has in acting against racism, Borys Minger, a Gee-Gees basketball player who is also the group’s co-president, also told the Sports Pages in May.

“The most important thing is to establish a structure, because we (the current members) are the ones who are there now, but what we represent is much, much, much bigger than ourselves as individuals,” Minger said.

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“Pretty much what we’re hoping is that varsity (athletes) can be a leading force when it comes to bringing positive change.”

“(The BSAAC) are great ambassadors for our university and they’re influencing greatly in this area at uOttawa,” Hylland also said.

While the department’s five-year plan isn’t expected to be finalized until late summer, the commitment alluded to by Hylland represents a noteworthy victory in but one fight for equality.

When the plan is released, it’ll come following headstrong efforts that Gee-Gees past and present started on more than a year prior.

Driving Change

A number of uOttawa’s Black leaders in athletics, which included alumni, coaches and current players, began informally meeting to talk about George Floyd’s death and the fallout from it last summer.

In the fall, the school was rocked by its own racism scandal after a white professor used the n-word during a lecture, in what she rationalized as being for educational purposes. To many students — including student-athletes, whose Black population is over-representative compared to the general student population — the university’s administration’s handling of the affair was inadequate, especially following the anti-racism upheaval that took place around the world in the months that had just passed.

uOttawa’s athletics department, meanwhile, had been trying to find the role it had to play in backing its athletes and being more actionable against racism and in support of an equitable experience. This has already led to the Gee-Gees adopting anti-racism programming for athletes and coaches this year, and a commitment from the department to work with the BSAAC, which announced itself during Black History Month (February) this year, in an ongoing way.

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