McGill to make decision on Redmen name by end of academic term

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McGill University in Montreal will decide whether or not to change the name of its Redmen men’s varsity teams by the end of this academic term.

Suzanne Fortier, the school’s principal and vice-chancellor, will be the one making the decision based on the university’s new principles on commemoration and renaming, following calls to change the name from students and Indigenous members of McGill’s community.

« Everyone in our community is understandably eager for a decision regarding the Redmen name, » wrote Fortier in a notice published on the university’s website Wednesday.

Fortier said she has received a high volume of messages from within and beyond McGill’s community expressing opinions on the name since the university’s Working Group on Principles of Commemoration and Renaming issued its final report in December.

« I believe, though, that it is important for me to read, understand and reflect upon all the comments and points of view that have been expressed, and give them the level of consideration and respect with which they were shared, » wrote Fortier.

A logo with a headdress appeared on the football and hockey teams uniforms during the 1980s. (McGill University)

In making her decision, she said she will also seek advice from students, staff and faculty, as well Indigenous members of the McGill community, student athletes and alumni.

« It is essential that I, and all of us as a community, give this important question the time and space that it clearly deserves. »

An online form is also available for those who would like to share their opinions with McGill on the issue.

Decision not being made soon enough for some students

Since the late 1920s, McGill’s men’s varsity teams have been known as the Redmen. The name is said to stem from colours worn by the team.

Indigenous symbols, connotations, and unofficial nicknames were propagated by the media and fans in many circumstances since.

For Tomas Jirousek, the length of time being taken to make the decision is disappointing.

« I can respect the need to have a adequate process of consultation on changing the name. But I think we’ve demonstrated as a community here at the university [we] want to change the name, » he said.

Tomas Jirousek is from the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta and has been a varsity athlete on McGill’s rowing team for three years. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Jirousek, a member of the Kainai First Nation in Alberta, is a third-year political science student on the men’s varsity rowing team. He spearheaded the campaign in the fall to change the name, which included an on-campus demonstration in October and an online petition that garnered more than 10,000 signatures.

McGill’s undergraduate student union also held a non-binding referendum that collected 5,856 votes, with 78.8 per cent in favour of the change.

« The decision to delay the process on the decision on changing the name fails to take into account the need for expediency on the issue, » said Jirousek.

« At this very moment, Indigenous students still feel ostracized on this campus because of the Redmen name and delaying the decision continues to drag out this process of pain for a lot of these students. »

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How a Degrassi child star became a leading academic voice on legalizing weed

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When Rebecca Haines-Saah was 13, she saw an ad in the Toronto Sun looking for teenagers to star in what would become a cult classic Canadian TV show. Having experience in dance and theatre — she already had an agent — she showed up to the audition with a pink, cable-knit sweater and loads of teenage ambition.

The show was Degrassi Junior High, the drama that dealt with teen pregnancy, underage drinking and drug use. For many children growing up in the 1980s, it would become a cultural treasure.

Haines-Saah didn’t get the part of Melanie Brodie, whom she had auditioned to play, but the show’s writers were so enamoured with her acting chops that they created a new role for her: Melanie’s best friend, Kathleen Mead. The so-called Wicked Witch of Degrassi.

While Haines-Saah played the character for five seasons, she didn’t go on to become a professional actor. Instead, she reinvented herself as an academic. But the parallels between her childhood job and her career as an adult are all the more striking.

This episode of Degrassi Junior High is the first appearance for Kathleen Mead (blue sweater), played by Rebecca Haines-Saah. Joey Jeremiah ends up selling them vitamins as drugs. 1:08

The woman who played a teen experimenting with drugs, dealing with anorexia and coping with a mother addicted to alcohol now researches youth substance use and mental health at the University of Calgary.

The child star whose character once brought pot to a birthday party, grew up to become a leading academic voice in Alberta on the value of legalizing cannabis, arguing that jailing users created more harm than the drug itself.

« It’s that approach to engaging youth voices and putting youth stories at the centre, that really shapes my work, » says Haines-Saah, who teaches in the department of community health services and works with youth on video and photo projects to help share their stories.

Youth have something valuable to say

« That’s really a Degrassi-style approach to storytelling and to thinking youth have something valuable to say. If we want to help youth in any way, we need to talk to them and understand how they see the world, not our adult-centric perspective on life. »

Haines-Saah grew up in Toronto’s Regent Park, where she saw the rise of the crack epidemic, with people using and selling drugs, and engaging in sex work around her doorstep. She left that same stoop every morning to film on set, but she couldn’t get a taxi to drop her off close to home at day’s end, because of the way her neighbourhood was viewed.

Kathleen Mead had a streak of mischief. In this episode, she brings 2 joints to a birthday slumber party. 0:30

« I had this dual experience growing up, and it really did inform how I approach people who use drugs, the compassion that I think we need and why I challenge stigma, » she says.

There are some notable contrasts between her and the character she played for most of her teenage years.

Haines-Saah is warm and engaging. To be charitable, Kathleen was cold. A harsher assessment might peg her as a snooty mean girl. But her hostile demeanour was often a defence mechanism against her peers prying into her personal life, especially her troubled home.

She was a trivia master who wanted to excel at school and, most of all, make her parents proud. She once produced a science project with her bestie Melanie about the dangers of pollution and acid rain, and was crushed when it didn’t win at the school science fair.

Character could be mistaken for a nerd

Kathleen could have been mistaken for a nerd if it weren’t for her streak of mischief. In one episode, she finds a pair of cannabis joints and shares them with friends during a birthday party sleepover. The drama takes a turn when Melanie gets so high she reveals some of Kathleen’s deepest, darkest secrets, including that she’s in counselling.

« Kathleen, I don’t see what the big deal is, » her best friend blurts out. « You had anorexia. Your mom is an alcoholic. And your boyfriend beat you up. Most people would need counselling for even one of those things. »

Kathleen Mead had a reputation for being cold, including in this episode about a trivia contest. Haines-Saah says she sometimes had a hard time convincing fans she’s not the « evil character » she played on TV. 0:44

Despite her hard exterior, the character resonated with Haines-Saah, given that Kathleen’s home life « isn’t that far off from what many kids experience, » and given her « remarkable resilience » to all those challenges. Still, the actor sometimes got heckled on the streets of Toronto over her character’s harsh disposition.

« The male castmates had fun, » she says. « They had teenage girls chasing them around, trying to get into their hotel rooms and date them.

« I just got yelled at and called names. »

Haines-Saah starred in Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, along with a single appearance on Degrassi: The Next Generation. As a young Canadian actor, she didn’t lead a lavish life of luxury.

Awkward moments, worst hairstyles forever captured

« I don’t think I ever really experienced that type of uber celebrity that child stars have now, and in many ways I’m thankful for that, » she says. « But I have some of my most awkward teenage moments and worst hairstyles forever captured on film for everybody to see. »

While she played a young student, she missed three or four months of school a year. Her mom told her if her average fell below 80 per cent, she had to quit the show.

Rebecca Haines-Saah argues cannabis prohibition and scare-tactic campaigns like the poster hanging in her office did not stop youth from smoking pot. She says the policy did more harm than the drug itself. (Reid Southwick/CBC)

« I literally had a tutor driving me around on geography field trips around Ontario to look at granite outcrops and all kinds of other ridiculous things on the weekends, » she says. « I’d be writing a chemistry exam on set at 7 a.m. supervised by a production assistant and then sending it over to the school. »

Academics were always important. She had read somewhere « if you could picture yourself being happy doing anything other than acting, you should go and do that thing. » So she enrolled at McGill University. She was initially in communications, thinking she’d get into journalism or film production, but she fell in love with research and writing papers, later shifting her focus to youth drug use.

Putting youth at the centre

« It’s no accident that I became a youth substance use researcher, » she says on a University of Calgary video about legalizing cannabis, « because I started out as an actress on the Canadian television series Degrassi.

« What was so unique and different about Degrassi, compared to other television for young people is that, in the Degrassi storylines, youth always solved their own problems … and that’s definitely the approach I take in my research, is amplifying youth voices and putting youth at the centre. »

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A chilling effect of #MeToo in academic medicine

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Here’s this week’s Second Opinion, a roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

It’s a hashtag powerful enough to take down Hollywood’s elite.

While the #MeToo movement has officially been around for more than a decade, the campaign really took off a year ago this week, when the New York Times published its investigation into movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Since then, hundreds of women have levelled accusations of sexual misconduct against a growing list of high-profile men.

And while #MeToo has ended, or at least sidelined, the careers of some household names, it also has unintended chilling consequences on women seeking careers in the medical profession, a new commentary says.

A commentary published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that very same hashtag is also creating a « culture of fear » in academic medicine, scaring off men from mentoring women.

Backlash is ‘hostile sexism’

« Some men in positions of power now say they are afraid to participate in mentoring relationships with women, » reads the commentary, penned by six Canadian scientists — all women working in the fields of medical research and education.

« Men say they fear false allegations of sexual misconduct that could compromise their reputations and end their careers, even if they were found to be innocent. »

The authors describe this #MeToo backlash as « hostile sexism » because it punishes women by withdrawing mentorship opportunities from those who challenge the status quo.

« Mentorship for women was never that great.… But now there’s a deliberate withdrawal of mentorship that we found very troubling, » said Sophie Soklaridis, the commentary’s lead author and a scientist at the Toronto-based Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Harvey Weinstein is escorted in handcuffs to a courtroom in New York on July 9. The #MeToo movement really took off a year ago, when the New York Times published its investigation into the movie mogul. But now a commentary says the movement has unintended chilling consequences on women seeking medical careers. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

Increasingly, she says, #MeToo is being used as an excuse for men not to mentor women. Mentoring in medical circles is a big deal, with academic doctors having a « professional and moral obligation to mentor the next generation of medical professionals, » the commentary says.

Not doing so would have serious consequences on a woman’s career trajectory, says Soklaridis, noting that it makes all the difference if you have someone that takes you under their wing, and opens the door to opportunities and advancement. « When women are not on the radar, it limits their opportunities for these kinds of advancements, » she said.

It also comes when there are more women than men enrolled in medical schools in Canada and the U.S., yet women only account for 16 per cent of medical school deans and 15 per cent of department heads at teaching hospitals.

The authors fear denying access to mentoring relationships will perpetuate this gender gap.

The commentary was based on a number of years’ worth of academic literature and articles about mentorship and fear. Soklaridis and her colleagues also relied on anecdotal evidence, she said. « The things that I’ve heard [retired] men say is, ‘Oh, I’m so glad I don’t have to do this anymore because it’s just become so complicated,' » she said.

Studying the gender gap

Dr. Sharon Straus, a professor with the University of Toronto’s medicine department, has heard similar stories. She was not involved in the current commentary, but she studied the gender gap in teaching hospitals and wrote an editorial on the #MeToo movement in medicine  this year. « I don’t think it’s a new fear, » Straus said. « I think that the #MeToo movement has raised more awareness of this and people have talked about it a little bit more. »

Some of that comes from individuals who question whether they’re comfortable mentoring people of different genders, she said. In one of her studies looking at gender equity in academic medicine, some of the men interviewed said they treated their male and female mentees differently because of concerns around how the relationship might be perceived.

Her own experience with a male mentor was positive, Straus said, and the pair ended up writing a book on the subject of mentorship — « one of the last things we did before he died. »

Mentorship « is really about being a decent human being, and about treating people equitably, and making sure that we’re behaving professionally, » she said. « And I think the #MeToo movement has highlighted that. »

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