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Students say free speech trumped by political correctness

By Chris Adams, December 4, 2014 —

Students at the University of Calgary have responded to Active Living’s decision to ban offensive team names for intramural sports teams, set to take effect next semester. Opponents of the ban call it an unnecessary limitation on free speech, while its proponents claim the names are offensive and perpetuate rape culture.

Students’ Union arts representative Lexi Narowski approached Active Living, the organization that governs U of C intramural sports, in October. She said a friend informed her of the names — such as Beats By Ray, Cunning Stunts and Frigid Whore — before lobbying Active Living to ban them because of their sexist nature.

Active Living banned offensive names, saying they would closely monitor any new names for sexism, racism and homophobia, among other things.

Narowski said many students she has talked to are happy with the changes.

“People can say whatever they feel they need to say towards me. This issue still needs to be brought to light, especially in an academic environment,” Narowski said.

But Josh Bijak, one of the administrators for the Allow All Team Names in U of C Intramural Sports Facebook page, said the change isn’t reflective of the sports community.

Bijak is involved in intramurals on campus, having participated in bubble soccer, volleyball and wrestling.

“If you take it negatively and that offends you, it’s a team name that won’t ever be published and the only time it’s ever seen is when you check the standings online. It’s not like it can actually do harm. It’s an issue that shouldn’t be an issue,” Bijak said.

The page’s moderators started an online petition to pressure Active Living to reverse the ban.

Bijak said Narowski overstepped her bounds when she spoke to Active Living. Narowski made clear that she wasn’t undertaking a Students’ Union initiative, but acted alone to change the names.

Bijak’s group will lobby Active Living to reverse their decision. Bijak said Active Living was doing good enough monitoring the team names before the change. He said the ban is unnecessary since “one of the fun aspects of playing intramural sports is you can name your team whatever you like,” adding that people can chose whether or not to be offended by something.

Narowski was questioned by a group of students at Students’ Legislative Council after question period on Tuesday, Nov. 26. They asked why she went to Active Living to request a “blanket change” to the team names.

The student were directed to SU president Jarett Henry, who explained that they would have to talk with the university, as the ban wasn’t an SU initiative.

Narowski said she welcomes debate.

“Purely because I feel like if a discussion like this is still controversial in a school, then obviously there’s a lot more learning that needs to be done,” Narowski said.

Bijak said he and the page’s other moderators don’t think the name of an intramural team can perpetuate rape culture. He said people have the right to be offended, but also to offend.

“The point is that none of these names that were deemed offensive were in any way overtly offensive in the sense that they were like hate speech. They were just clever puns that people found mildly offensive,” Bijak said.

But Narowski said that the changes put in place by Active Living are positive.

“Overall, it’s not about what some students find funny, it’s about what all students deem appropriate. By having these names changed, it is creating an inclusive environment for all students,” Narowski said.

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