(Aaron Sousa/AQ)

An intense debate over the gender breakdown of awards, scholarships and bursaries continued Thursday night during St. Thomas University’s monthly senate meeting regarding a pair of proposed awards for male university athletes.

Dawne Clarke, who chairs STU’s Admissions and Academic Standing committee, put forward motions for senators to approve the McDougall Family Love of The Game prize, designated for a male volleyball player, and the Hanif Brown Entrance Award, designated for a male international soccer player.

Both motions were defeated due to concerns raised by several senators, including Kristi Allain, chair of the senate nominating committee, who called it “problematic” for the university to allow money to be set aside for groups that aren’t “equity-seeking.”

“I don’t have any problem with any open award,” Allain told senators. “Let everybody have access to these awards and I would be completely in support … if they were for athletes, but they’re not for athletes — they’re for men.”

Canada’s Employment Equity Act defines equity-seeking groups as “women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities.” Allain said men would be considered a non-equity-seeking group.

Because men are considered a non-equity-seeking group, she said STU should not have awards from donors designated for only men.

“I do believe that it runs counter to the social justice framework that’s built right into our university,” said Allain. “To have non-equity money set aside for non-equity-seeking groups, I think, is concerning.”

Clarke said there is concern about approaching donors to change award criteria as the university does not want to risk them taking back their donations, noting how donors often set certain criteria based on their own experiences or those of other students.

After recommendations made by senate in November to deliver a report confirming if there was inequity regarding the university’s 243 awards, scholarships and bursaries offered to students, Clarke said five per cent were designated for female students.

Kim Fenwick, STU’s acting president and vice-chancellor, noted 72 per cent of the university’s student population identifies as female.

Clarke noted there were no awards currently designated for males, meaning the approval of either award would become the first of any award, scholarship or bursary to be directly linked to a non-equity-seeking group.

Allain said it’s entirely problematic for STU not to have a policy on the issue and suggested the university put the brakes on donors putting forward money for non-equity-seeking groups until an appropriate framework is in place.

“We could have a white nationalist group come and bring money to us for white students only and argue that we don’t have a policy,” she said. “They are also a non-equity; they’re not an equity-seeking group. We need to have policy on this.”

Matthew Hayes, a sociology professor and member of senate, agreed with Allain and said a policy would allow STU to reject awards designated for male students and only accept those meant for all students.

He said it would be a disservice to people who want to donate if STU doesn’t have a policy in place that prevents donors from “prioritizing systemically-advantaged groups.”

“We’re not saying that men … are going to be disadvantaged because we have a policy in place that respects the fact that there’s a distinct difference between equity-seeking and non-equity-seeking groups,” he said.

Matt Dinan, director of the great books and Aquinas program at STU, said the criteria for the McDougall Family Love of The Game award doesn’t preclude the student who wins could be a member of an equity-seeking group.

He suggested adjusting that award’s wording so it’s designated to a student on the men’s volleyball team, which he said would still honour the donor’s intention of supporting the team while remaining open to equity-seeking groups.

Clarke told senators she spoke with Dionne Izzard, the director of advancement for annual and planned giving, about connecting with the McDougall family about expanding the award.

In an email read by Clarke, Izzard wrote “I know they would not be open to changing the criteria.”

“The McDougall family’s relationship is with the men’s team and the coach of that team,” read the email.

“The family, whose daughter plays for Mount Allison University, has a scholarship for female volleyball players there. At STU, their son plays for the men’s team and that is the team they want to support.”

Clarke said Izzard’s email noted that while the Hanif Brown Entrance Award gives preference to male athletes, the donor is open to women receiving the awards but would prefer an international male athlete “since [the donor’s] affiliation is with that team.”

Clarke said that Izzard felt it would be challenging to “dictate” how donors want to support athletes, suggesting it could deter some from making future gifts.

“Donors give to areas that are meaningful to them,” Izzard’s email stated. “If funds are unrestricted, then equality is definitely important, but with donor-directed funds, it makes it more difficult.”

After nearly 40 minutes of debate, 16 members of senate opposed the motion to approve the McDougall Family Love of The Game award, while seven people voted in favour and six abstained.

Meanwhile, 13 senators opposed the motion to approve the Hanif Brown Entrance Award. Six members voted in favour and 10 people abstained.

Fenwick asked Clarke to bring both motions back to admissions and academic standing for further consultation.

In the meantime, Michael Dawson, a professor of history at STU, said the long-term solution to the issue is a policy, noting that the short-term solution is a conversation with the donors about expanding the awards to all players.

“I don’t think [Izzard] has to go back to the donors with a baseball bat; I think they go back to them with a pretty subtle query,” he said.