Sports Law & Strategy Group holds town halls for Queen’s Athletics department review

Queen’s has “all the right stuff,” group says, though fails to provide quantitative evidence

SLSG held two town halls online this week to discuss preliminary results from its departmental review of A&R.
Journal File Photo

The Sports Law and Strategy Group (SLSG) held two town halls, on March 23 and 24, designed to communicate the preliminary findings of their departmental review concerning Queen’s Athletics and Recreation (A&R).

The town halls, which took place virtually, consisted of presentations by members of the SLSG concerning “safe sport” awareness, the findings from their review thus far, and a Q&A period from attendees.

The review was announced by the University in September 2020. The preliminary findings presented in the town hall were gathered from research conducted over the past three months, and the final report will be published later this year.

To attend the town halls, individuals had to e-mail SLSG beforehand, as specific links to the meetings were not posted publicly, nor were their times. 

The town halls were held using a platform called “GoTo Meeting.” As per the platform’s layout, attendees could not see other participants who were in the meeting, nor could they see what—or how many—questions were being asked of the hosts.

According to LJ Bartle, a representative from SLSG, Queen’s hired them to conduct the review because “they want to become the platinum standard for developing and implementing safe sport and [Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigeneity] standards in university athletics in Canada.”

Prior to explaining their preliminary findings, Bartle said Queen’s “could have absolutely postponed this review,” noting how COVID-19 has made Queen’s Athletics and Recreation far more busy than normal.

According to the SLSG, the departmental review is split into four primary parts: “planning and communications;” “gap analysis;” “stakeholder engagement;” and “findings and recommendations.”

The “Gap Analysis” portion consisted of a review of the University’s practices and policies as well as an “environmental scan” of other collegiate athletic programs and their policies.  “Stakeholder Engagement” consisted of surveys, interviews, and town halls done for feedback.

The exposition of the “planning and communications” phase as well as the “findings and recommendations” phase was not extensive.

Regarding their review, Bartle noted that Queen’s has “all the right stuff,” citing their training, employment practices, and hiring tools, like those developed by the Human Rights and Equity Office.

Bartle nonetheless noted there was still “room for improvement” regarding these polices, specifically citing that there is no central location for all A&R documents, a noticeable portion of regulatory overlap, and some hiring processes can sometimes have the “unintended” consequence of actually shrinking their applicant pools.

On their “environmental scan,” the SLSG found that many universities successfully benefitted from greater interdepartmental partnerships, senior leadership positions tailored to safe sport, as well as the construction of “Athletics Integrity Policies and Independent Compliance Offices.”

Bartle also spoke about their feedback from their stakeholder engagement efforts. Their surveys—targeted at athletes, coaches, A&R staff, and varsity alumni from the past five years—found that “safe sport culture” ranked “very high” at Queen’s, and figures concerning discrimination and maltreatment for student-athletes were “mostly low.”

“Most student athletes have not experienced discrimination. A small number have experienced it and mostly based [it] on gender identity or race,” Bartle said.

Bartle went on to say “more witnessed it than experienced it,” and “if they witnessed it, they said it was usually due to race and ethnicity.”

Regarding these surveys, the SLSG did not provide any specific figures or metrics concerning respondents and their answers.

In discussing the interviews they have conducted, the SLSG concluded that individuals found the volume of information concerning safe sport initiatives “overwhelming” as well as “inconsistent”—noting how student-athletes often receive differing levels of information and training about them.

SLSG also stated the jurisdiction and application of various codes of conduct and complaint mechanisms has also been inconsistent.

They also stated there’s a “lack of diverse representation at every stakeholder level,” but “all stakeholders were passionate about improving the systems currently in place to make meaningful change.”

During the Q&A period, attendants who chose to ask questions or provide comments were given complete anonymity. The questions were read by Dina Bell-Laroche, a partner at the SLSG. Laroche did not specify how many questions were asked in total, and paraphrased questions as opposed to reading them verbatim.

When asked by The Journal’s Sports Editor for further clarification on the survey metrics and their methodology for applicants, Bell-Laroche noted the focus of the town hall was not on providing quantitative data, but assured that such data will be provided in the final report in late April.

As a final note, Bartle and Bell Laroche both urged attendees to reach out to the SLSG by e-mailing if they have any additional comments or concerns.

These town halls were the first public consultations taken for the review, the final report of which is due to be published at the end of the semester.

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