Finding equity in Athletics and Recreation

Athletes and alum speak to unwelcoming environment within athletics

Image by: Curtis Heinzl
Bridget Mulholland kneeling for Canada’s national anthem.

Women’s Basketball just returned from their second ever—and second consecutive—appearance at nationals. However, their progress as a team these past two years goes far beyond the medals they’ve earned.

After hiring Head Coach Claire Meadows in 2020, the women’s basketball team underwent major adjustments regarding inclusivity and equity. 

The first ever Black athlete on the team, Lireesa Gokhool-Jefferson, ArtSci ’25, joined in Meadows’ first year with the program, and the team shifted its focus towards Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigeneity (EDII) initiatives. 

Meadows said their main goal is to create a more diverse and inclusive team culture. 

The history of racism and discrimination in Queen’s Athletics and Recreation (A&R) is prominent. Recently, athletes have spoken out about the discrimination they’ve faced, and just one look at the University’s treatment of Alfie Pierce during his time here reveals a very problematic past. Yet, current teams, like Women’s Basketball, recognize the exclusive past and hope to create a better and more inclusive future. 

“This space, this program, [A&R], has changed significantly,” former Women’s Basketball player and current Head Coach Meadow, B.PhE ’07, said in an interview with The Journal. 

“There’s so much more conversation, so much more inclusivity and safe spaces. Do we still have a ways to go? 100 per cent yes, but we were not having any of the conversations that we’re having right now in the program when I played.”

For Meadows, the change to equity in sports starts with education when specific initiatives are brought into practice.

The women’s basketball team has focused on creating environments where they can learn from each other. A few weeks ago, they gathered to watch a livestream of the men’s basketball team competing in the playoffs and had a caterer bring in some food that celebrated Caribbean culture. 

According to Meadows, they used this time to educate themselves and have a celebration of food from another culture. 

Although the team is actively pushing for a more inclusive future, they recognize the problems associated with bringing athletes into environments not equipped with the resources and support those players need to succeed.

“I can speak to a lot of educational pieces that have been implemented and put in place, specifically within the last year here. I know, all Queen’s coaches and staff members went through some fairly intensive training last spring and summer,” she said. 

She believes we’re moving in the right direction towards education and feels the coaches are doing a fantastic job at applying their learning to their programs. She emphasized the importance of individualizing these initiatives to ensure they suit their players the best. 

“Are we intentionally trying to diversify our space and our program? Yes, we are. But at the same time, it’s so important that we make sure we’re supporting our student athletes in that process,” Meadows said.

The steps toward inclusivity could be as simple as finding a place where Black women can get their hair done. Meadows explained there needs to be a space in the community to provide services to BIPOC students, so they feel welcome here. 

“But we have to think about the broader community and what supports are here for them to feel welcome, to feel safe, and to feel like this is a place that they belong.”

In many ways, Women’s Basketball became a catalyst for change within A&R and other teams. They started each of their games this year with a recorded land acknowledgement, which they crafted with the support of Amy Brant, the Indigenous training lead from Queen’s Four Directions. 

They wanted their acknowledgement to recognize how grateful they are to live, learn, and play on these lands, but also wanted this message to have the greatest impact possible. So, in introducing the acknowledgement, they removed playing the national anthem before their games. 

“It wasn’t a matter of taking away the anthem because we didn’t necessarily want the anthem played. We just felt like if we were going to write a land acknowledgement and present it, that we wanted the spotlight to be on the land acknowledgement,” Meadows said. 

She said A&R is very supportive of this initiative and after they implemented this change, other teams expressed their desire to write their own land acknowledgment.

This move, however, hasn’t come without its fair share of controversy. Some members of the Kingston community responded positively and respectfully, while others are upset with the removal of the anthem. 

Most notably, the OUA—the governing body for Ontario university sports—did not agree with the team’s decision. When the team hosted the OUA final earlier this month, the OUA directed them to play the anthem before the game, or face unknown consequences which could jeopardize their program, according to Meadows.

Under this threat, the Gaels chose to comply, but chose to air their land acknowledgement alongside the anthem. While “O Canada” played, players like starting guard Bridget Mulholland found other ways to make 

a statement and took a knee.

Though A&R is now making efforts towards equitable racial change, especially for its Black athletes, The Journal investigated moments of potential neglect for its Black athletes in conversation with alum.

Jonathan Daniel, MSc ’07, played on the men’s basketball team as its oldest and only Black player for the 2005-06 season. Driving home after a long day at work, Daniel described the bittersweet moments of playing basketball at Queen’s in an interview with The Journal

After playing four years on the varsity team at St. Francis Xavier University and the University of Ottawa, he came to Queen’s for his Master’s in physiotherapy. However, his plans to become well-acquainted with the library were upturned when a player from the team watched him shooting hoops in the gym one day. 

Feeling varsity sports was something from his past, Daniel initially told the player he wasn’t interested in playing. Yet, these protests didn’t deter his future teammate and after the assistant coach invited Daniel to a practice, he ended joining the team. 

He described a healthy pressure between him and the coaches where they built a “great relationship” with no animosity. 

However, Daniel did describe a sense of distance between him and the team, which he did not feel at his previous two schools. 

“Coming to Queen’s, I was the only Black person on the team and that was very different for me right off the top,” he said.

He came from a very multicultural university and had to adjust his mindset when experiencing not only Queen’s basketball, but also the institution itself. Similar to Meadows’ sentiment of fostering a more inclusive community more broadly, Daniel mentioned Queen’s reputation is elitist and white.

“If that reputation of Queen’s as racist and elitist changed to celebrate minority athletes, if they were sought after more, and the coaches and athletic directors fought to get these athletes […] we would want to represent a new face of our future.” 

Daniel said he cannot speak  every Black person, but he’s not looking for preferential treatment. Instead, he argued for fairness and respect, where students are given a chance to prove themselves on and off the court. 

Despite the calls for a change in the administration, he had only good things to talk about when asked about his team. 

“I gotta say good things about  my teammates—they never made me feel alienated or ostracized. They never purposefully kept me out of any team functions or parties.” 

He didn’t feel excluded by his teammates but being the only Black player brought with it a sense of being on the fringes. His problem with racial issues often came from students he didn’t know or staff that used to work in the old Bartlett Gym. 

He recalled one specific moment walking home from practice alone and a car drove by with these guys yelling out of their vehicle, “get out of our country and go back to your country.” 

“I’m a Canadian—born and raised in Ottawa—and so those are a few things that I definitely did experience at the university, which wasn’t a sense of welcoming,” Daniel said.

This sense of coldness extended to A&R, especially in comparison to his other teams where he knew the athletic directors personally. 

“When I went to both those other two universities, they personally shook my hand and said we’re happy to have you on our team. I never received that at Queen’s.” 

Daniel never met previous A&R Executive Director Leslie Dal Cin during his time at Queen’s and never talked to anyone in the “higher up offices there.” 

“To be honest, I didn’t feel like there was an appreciation for the time and dedication, not only as a Black athlete, but for any athletes for that matter.” 

He remarked on a lack of community and communication between him and the department, which seemed to stem from a systemic issue in A&R. During games, he continued to feel alienated and had difficulty expressing these microaggressions to his coaches. 

“It wasn’t the greatest being the only Black person on the team. You’d hear comments like, ‘Oh, he’s the Black guy on the team, he must be good,’” he said.

“My experience playing wasn’t the greatest and the attention to minority athletes just was not there.”

Despite the warnings against Queen’s being a predominately white school that would not accept him, he went in thinking, “Well, how bad can it be?”

“And I realized yeah, it was pretty bad in 2005 and 2007,” he said.

Despite his lows at Queen’s and with the administration, he believes things can change. People in the department can make students feel welcome, alumni can check-in with rookies, and more resources can be brought to the players attention. 

“Every day when I put on that Queen’s jersey, I was extremely proud to wear it because as the only Black athlete on the court with my brothers going out there every game—and I call them brothers because we went out to fight—if there was any young basketball player, male or female, in the crowd, they might look at me and say, ‘Hey, I could do that too,” Daniel said.

Fast-forwarding back to the present, The Journal asked current players what change has occurred and can occur to create a new narrative for its players. 

“Universities run on red tape. I had a very ignorant, idealistic view of how I wanted to change things,” Amelia Stapley, MA ’23 and player on the women’s rugby team, said in an interview with The Journal.

A member of the A&R EDII taskforce since the winter of 2021, she explained the importance of creating more awareness about Black issues in a university setting.

In January 2021, A&R approached her to start the taskforce in response to the racial issues emerging from the spark of George Floyd in the U.S. and Canada. Despite the arguments and disagreements, she said spreading awareness about these issues is what effects change within the administration.

“There was a lot of discomfort surrounding racial equity and diversity issues, and I think it was a challenge to get it through people’s heads that we weren’t trying to blame people,” Stapley said.

Stapley explained the main goal is to make people’s lives better and give the players on the team the resources they need to feel safe in athletics. The coaches and administrators give an immense amount of dedication to their program and jobs, so hearing negative experiences could make them feel like they’re doing something wrong. 

She didn’t want them to feel they were being reprimanded, but to make people aware of marginalized experiences that should be heard. There are varsity players who don’t always have a voice and she wants to ensure these voices are heard.

“I mean look at the track record of Queen’s athletics—we’re pretty good at what we do. And there’s a reason for that. It’s a continuing matter of making those adjustments where necessary.” 

Linda Melnick, A&R director, described the initiatives for equity and inclusion as a pathway to progress in which staff and student athletes come into conversation with one another to cultivate and shape the program they want to see in the future. 

“I think a big part of what we have done is tied to education, learning, and training.” 

The next step is looking at how to implement these new resources and find where they need to be followed up on. For the past six months, A&R has been working on checking in with student athletes and building relationships so these needs can be better addressed. 

“We just need to make sure we’re being able to better communicate those to students and student athletes when you know they need them or when they’re trying to get access to them,” Melnik said. 

Regarding the women’s basketball team, Melnik praised how Meadows cultivates respect for Indigeneity among her players. She believes including a land acknowledgement in addition to the national anthem shows a shift in protocol, demonstrating a forward-thinking mindset. 

Despite being cognizant of this need for change in A&R, progress must go beyond education as the there remains a burden on BIPOC athletes to implement initiatives that should be the responsibility of the department and coaches. 

“It’s just having them [players] access stuff without having to fight for it or ask for it or advocate for it without take that extra emotional and physical energy out of their insanely difficulty lives,” Stapley said.


anti-racism, Athletics, legacy, Sports

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