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Women’s rugby task force aims to bring meaningful change within team, University, and community

Dear Editor,  

The University of Ottawa women’s rugby team writes to you at the Fulcrum in hopes of sharing our story and our mission with others.  

In May 2020, upon witnessing the murder of George Floyd, we came together as a team to discuss ways to implement advocating for social justice and change into our program.  

This started with reflection. As a program, as well as individuals, we took time to dig into our history and held ourselves accountable for a lack of diversity and inclusion within our team. In addition, we knew that we were late to only be starting our journey of advocacy and change at this time, and for that, we apologize.  

After considerations, our Task Force for Equity and Diversity was born. We determined that it wasn’t enough to simply post on social media. Society had made it clear to us that it wasn’t enough to only denounce racism using t-shirts and hashtags online; we knew we had to begin working to make sure our team was actively anti-racist.  

Since May, the task force has facilitated a large number of conversations in regards to actionable meaningful change within our team, University, and community. These include team workshops on topics such as unpacking white privilege and understanding racism. In addition, our team has gained insight on how to create actionable change from individuals such as Councillor Rawlson King (Ottawa’s first-ever Black city councillor, elected in April of 2019) and Kin Choi (Assistant Deputy Minister Human Resources-Civilian at the Department of National Defence). We have created an online resource centre for our team featuring websites, petitions, books, movies, podcasts, articles, activists, and more in order to facilitate education on social justice issues and how to create sustainable change.  

We have had the opportunity to discuss our goals and need for support with Jill Scott (provost and vice president, academic affairs at the University of Ottawa) as well as numerous members of the University of Ottawa’s sports services personnel. We have attended many meetings with members of U Sports divisions such as the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec and Ontario University Athletics, to address the immediate need for actionable change, as many athletes have never gotten the support they deserve in order to feel safe competing in these divisions. We continue to demand better from the University of Ottawa and from U Sports as a whole.  

The vision of our task force is for all student-athletes to enjoy safe spaces on our team, on our campus, and in our community. In order to reach this goal, we have committed to promoting education and awareness in order to empower student-athletes for actionable change and equity for all. We continue to work towards this goal daily as a task force and as a team.  

We are excited about the recent conversations we have had with other teams at the University of Ottawa, such as the two hockey teams, the women’s soccer team, and both basketball teams, about committing to implementing similar action within their own teams. We look forward to seeing the change which we know they will create. We urge the other teams at the University to reflect on their own role in creating safe spaces for their athletes as well.  

More than anything, we urge the University of Ottawa as a whole to take a stand against racism. All members of the University of Ottawa deserve a safe space to enjoy, a privilege that continues to be denied to so many by the University of Ottawa. The University’s refusal to fully denounce racism and implement forms of sustainable change does not go unnoticed. 

Your athletes and your community do not want your emails or your social media posts, they want you to take accountability for your actions (or lack thereof), and implement sustainable change in the form of policies and action. Your words without action are and will continue to be empty.  

What our team has accomplished, we do not consider extraordinary. It is simply a result of taking accountability, actively deciding to have the hard conversations, and committing to doing the work. We encourage all others to do the same.  

“If a conversation is hard, it’s probably the one worth having.”  

Sincerely, the University of Ottawa women’s rugby team.

The University of Ottawa’s women’s rugby team. Gregory Kolz/Varsity Athletics

The University of Ottawa women’s rugby program is one of the best in the nation having won six consecutive RSEQ championships and won bronze at the 2019 U Sports women’s rugby national championship held at Matt Anthony Field.