McMaster University to launch review of Black student athletes' experiences

McMaster University is launching a review of Black student athletes’ experiences in late July to explore the culture of its athletics program amid allegations of racism from alumni.

Final report submitted to dean of students by September

McMaster University will start group interviews with student athletes in late July to address allegations of racism within the Marauder Athletics. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

McMaster University will review the experiences of Black student athletes following allegations from alumni of racist behaviour inside the school's athletic department.

Sean Van Koughnett is the associate vice-president of students and learning, and also the dean of students. He said tweets from Fabion Foote, a Toronto Argonauts defensive lineman and former McMaster football player, prompted the review. 

"We were like, 'OK, we gotta dive into this and figure out what's going on,'" Van Koughnett told CBC News.

"There was a larger effort, and it will still happen, around doing a climate survey of all our students from under-represented groups, but that is separate from this."

The review, which begins later this month, will look back as far as 2010 and include group interviews with current and former Black student athletes. Other student athletes and staff, like coaches and administrators, will also be interviewed.

Black football players and non-Black football players will have their own group interviews. Van Koughnett said the majority of allegations come from the football team, which is why they have their own session.

All the interviews will take place over the span of a week starting July 27. Those interested in participating in the interview can fill in the webform on the Student Affairs website. Confidential written statements are also being taken.

Van Koughnett hopes to gather as many people in the interviews as possible. There are currently about 800 student athletes at McMaster, which means including alumni from the past decade could see thousands of participants.

Dean of students notes lack of Black leaders

In speaking with some students, Van Koughnett already believes not enough Black people hold positions of leadership in school sports.

"We need more leaders, more role models that are Black ... we're probably going to hear some of our Black student athletes had experiences where people have said things — either unintentionally or intentionally — that are racist."

The review has five objectives:

  1. To identify and document Black student athletes' experiences within Marauder Athletics, and learn about individual challenges and systemic barriers they may face in school.
  2. To examine the extent of a culture contributing to anti-Black bias and/or systemic racism within school athletics.
  3. To assess whether gaps exist in programs, processes, supports and organizational structures which influence the culture and the student experience for Black student athletes.
  4. To recommend ways those areas can address anti-Black racism and foster a culture of equity and inclusion.
  5. To identify any other issues within the athletics community which intersect with the Black student-athlete experience and that may require particular attention (i.e., intersections of sexism, homophobia, ableism, classism with anti-Black racism, etc.).

The review will be lead by Ivan Joseph, vice-provost of student affairs at Dalhousie University and formerly the director of athletics at Ryerson University.

He will also have a small task force at his disposal. The group is made of Black community members who will help develop the review.

"I'm taking a step back to let them do what they need to do," Van Koughnett explained.

A final report, with observations and recommendations, will be submitted to Van Koughnett before the end of August. Van Koughnett​​​​​​ said he intends to publish the report as soon as he can.

"We're going to do it thoroughly, but we're not going to take months and months to walk through this. We're trying to be transparent as possible and try to act as quickly as we can on the recommendations," he said.

"Although it surfaced in a way we would have liked to have dealt with differently, it's an opportunity for us to deal with it and we're not going to shy away from that."