A Wake-up Call for Sexually Violent Language in Sports

In light of the recent hockey brawl that took place on Saturday, February 2nd between St. Francis Xavier University and Acadia University, several individuals have reached out to me disappointed with the way Acadia handled the situation. Armed with the facts, I interviewed multiple people with the hopes of accurately representing the feelings of students about the brawl. Some individuals within this article remain anonymous due to positions they currently hold on campus and within the Acadia community.

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the news, during the third period of the hockey game, both the Acadia and St.FX players were engaging in typical hockey banter. Acadia player Rodney Southam was pushed into the opposing team’s box during the banter and it was in that moment Southam, as identified in his official statement, told St.FX captain Sam Studnicka “You look like a little ******* rapist”. Studnicka, who has a relationship to a sexual assault survivor, was deeply affected by this comment and as Studnicka faced off against Southam minutes later the brawl ensued.

Since the second week in February, the conversation around the brawl died down following the official statements from Southam and Acadia University. But this conversation is one that should be talked about and not pushed under the rug.

A distraught student wanted to highlight that “Acadia is bending over backwards to protect a player with poor sportsmanship and who may not be innocent of sexual misconduct himself, meanwhile [the university] has no strong nor functional Sexual Violence Policy (SV Policy) in place”. This student acknowledges many sexual assault survivors on campus do not feel nearly the same kind of support that Southam has received for his role in the continual appropriation of sexually violent language.

Jenna Purkis, Head of Acadia’s Mental Health Initiative, informed me while “Acadia currently does have some infrastructure in place to respond to incidents of sexualized violence but all Nova Scotian Universities, per the 2015-2019 Memorandum of Understanding, are required to have a ‘stand-alone sexual violence policy’, which is still in development at Acadia.”

While Purkis assures there have been serious developments towards the creation of a functional SV policy in this past year such as a consultation with students in November and faculty regarding the current presentation of the policy in December, these proposed changes, as of late-February, have not been adopted into the current draft. This news means Acadia is not as close to having formed a working SV policy as students and faculty would have liked. The distraught student points out that due to the lack of progress since 2015, “Acadia’s commitment [to creating a functional SV policy] seems as strong as a toothpick”.

Purkis, along with this anonymous student both expressed sexual violence is an issue affecting individuals on campus and the best way for Acadia to show their support to victims is to finalize a working SV Policy.

Purkis supports her beliefs by noting that “Acadia can and should verbalize their support for victim-survivors, but Acadia’s good intentions mean very little if we do not have an adequate policy in place to follow through.”

Through the individuals that have reached out to me, it has become apparent that while Acadia can do their part in supporting victim-survivors by creating an SV policy, there is a larger problem at hand. Students have expressed that sexually violent language in sports has become appropriated and is now unfortunately embedded in ‘sport culture’

Samantha Teichman, a leader in Commit Sociology, held a community discussion following news of the brawl. The aim was to discuss in a diplomatic manner Southam’s response statement and the problems with using sexually violent language in sports and how, if possible, to fix this appropriation. In a comment from the Commit Sociology community discussion, students said that “the response must come from more than the individual players but a change from the institutions themselves.”

Currently, Acadia uses a system called Bystander Intervention Training (BIT) with their Varsity Athletes. The goal of BIT is to prepare athletes to become active bystanders who are ready to intervene in similar situations such as the brawl. Teichman noted the community touched on how Acadia’s hockey players currently undergo BIT but agree that “when events like this arise and our repercussions are not sufficient, these preventative measures (BIT) ring hollow. It was agreed [by Commit Sociology] that this event should be a time for reflection and furthermore, a learning opportunity”.

“I’ve heard “sensitivity training” for athletes suggested as a means to address incidents like these”, Purkis noted regarding the brawl. “While I do think training and programs such as BIT (in which many athletes receive mandatory training) can be useful, they absolutely are not “the” solution. They are superficial remedies for a structural and cultural problem; we can employ trainings like these to convey a message about the seriousness of sexual violence, but that message means very little without serious follow-through and consequences”.

In a conversation with another student who asked to remain anonymous, they believe that Acadia must be strict when it comes to sexually violent language and they must punish instead of protecting any student who does so.

If students are able to use this kind of language and get away with it, or worse be protected by their institutions, change will never come. This is a critical problem affecting universities across the country. At this point, the only way to rid ‘sport culture’ of sexually violent language is for these institutions to hold students responsible for their words.

Sexual Violence is a critical issue on university campuses. It is my understanding, through the various conversations I’ve had regarding the topic, that this hockey brawl is a chance for the university to take a step back and address how they can learn from this incident and improve the stature of things on campus. Instead of worrying about their own or their player’s reputations, Acadia should be using this opportunity to show support to victim-survivors on campus and make the changes necessary to improve our institution.

Commit Sociology “hope[s] to see a more constructive response of how to prevent the use of sexually violent language in sport moving forward”.

“The ASU denounces all forms of violence on campus. The ASU has been an advocate for enhancing all forms of student wellness on campus” stated George Philp, ASU President in response to this article.

“This year our Executive and Council have been active in ensuring better access to medical professionals at the Dennis Clinic, which is better staffed this semester than it has been in years. The ASU has been a strong leader in our work with the Acadia Student Resource Centre to role out the Nova Scotia Bystander Intervention Training to more students including many of Acadia’s varsity athletes. This year’s Executive has spearheaded the modernizing of Acadia’s Non-Academic Judicial Process to better support survivors of sexual violence and we look forward to the implementation of Acadia’s Sexual Violence Policy in the coming weeks. Again, the ASU is proud of the funding, services, and advocacy that we provide for all students and violence within our campus community is never justifiable.”

Rylie Moscato is a first year English student and Columnist for The Athenaeum