‘Like a slap in the face of history’

Student, athletes resist suggested Wesmen name change

Wesmen volleyball member Tom Douglas-Powell started a Facebook campaign, Save The Wesmen, protesting a potential name change for the university’s sports teams. KELLY MORTON/KELLYMORTONPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

It’s a plan in its infant stages, but one that has outraged both students and athletes.

After 35 years, administration at the University of Winnipeg is planning consultation over whether to change the Wesmen team name to something more gender-inclusive.

The consultations are being prompted by the influx of new sports teams on campus, the new kinesiology faculty, renovations of the Duckworth Centre, and construction readying on the $40-million UNITED Health & RecPlex, said Jeremy Read, senior executive officer and advisor to U of W president Lloyd Axworthy.

“Clearly if (there was) ever a time to consider a name change, we should consider it now,” Read said.

In November, the university will be sending out an online survey for students, faculty and alumni to give their input.

The idea, however, is already being met with resistance.

“Changing the name dishonours the program’s history,” said Tom Douglas-Powell, a member of the Wesmen men’s volleyball team and creator of the “Save The Wesmen” Facebook page, which has attracted more than 800 likes in two weeks.

“Wesmen is associated with so many things, from the national championships to community service, and to change this would suggest a lack of appreciation for those who have been in the program before us.

“I’ve said before, it feels like a slap in the face of history, and I stand by that,” he said.

Gender bias has been seen as the major player in the push for a name change, with different groups in past years claiming the “men” in Wesmen discriminates against females.

Changing the name dishonours the program’s history.

Tom Douglas-Powell, men’s volleyball

However, for Alyssa Grant, a fourth-year member of the Wesmen women’s basketball team, the team name has never been an issue.

“The only time gender bias has been brought up with our team is during these announcements and people saying how silly it is,” she said.

“None of us feel gender-excluded at all and changing the name feels like changing the program’s history.”

A large portion of the student body feels the same, according to University of Winnipeg Students’ Association president Lauren Bosc.

However, she believes that some of the outrage comes from misinterpretation of the facts.

“It wasn’t really an announcement that was well thought out,” said Bosc. “It came up in the media so quickly and really, there are a lot of consultations that need to happen before a name change is even considered.

“I’m not for it, but I haven’t had a conversation (with administration) yet.”

The Wesmen name is a nod to Wesley College and Manitoba College, one of two schools that merged to form the United College in 1938, which would change its name to the University of Winnipeg in 1967.

While changing a team name would normally be an expensive ordeal, Read says that since it comes at a time when renovations are happening, it would be the best possible time to consider a change. He also pointed out that even if a change does happen, the Wesmen name and history won’t be forgotten.

“Everybody is proud of our athletic program and its record, athletes and alumni,” he said.

“Even if the name were to change, we want to make sure the Wesmen tradition is honoured.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 17, 2012)

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