OTTAWA — Sometimes, what you’re looking for is right there in plain sight.
On April 2nd, 2020, the Algonquin College Students’ Association made a major announcement, one that has caused its share of turmoil within the college community.
It was announced that Algonquin College would be abandoning the name ‘Thunder’, and will be rebranding as the ‘Algonquin College Wolves’ alongside the development of a new Athletics & Recreation Centre (ARC), which is expected to be completed in 2021.
Algonquin will operate under the ‘Thunder’ name for the 2020-21 season while the rebrand takes place to coincide with the opening of the new facility.
The name change, and the way the change came about for that matter, is not sitting well with various members of the Algonquin College community, including Alumni, fans, and the Student-Athletes alike.
Back in October 2019, the Students’ Association announced the decision to “begin a rebranding process, one that would consider renaming the varsity programs to symbolize the college’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.” In addition to that, it was also stated that the Students’ Association wanted to be sure that “the name and branding supported a strong narrative that would reflect the values of Algonquin College and create a unified identity.”
Even prior to the decision to rebrand, the college already had its unified identity.
Still, the decision to rebrand to align with the college’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation in Canada was praiseworthy.
The way in which they went about the decision, however, wasn’t worthy of the same praise and high standards.
After the Board of Directors approved a policy to express its commitment to Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, they went out into the community to consult with the Indigenous Community on possible name options.
While the Indigenous community is a crucial piece to the process, one that we’re not disputing by any means, they missed a big community of their own in the name generation process.
Nowhere does it state in the release, which can be read here, that they sourced name options from their own community – Staff, Students, Alumni, or Student-Athletes. Instead, they took their self-generated four name options to the college community and asked them to vote on which name they thought best fit the criteria and helped to symbolize their commitment to Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.
Here were the four options. See if you notice anything:
Three of the four options are some rendition of ‘Wolves’, which is a little odd from the start. The goal was to “gauge the community’s preference for a name and narrative that would establish an Algonquin College identity, and not just a varsity athletic identity,” yet they did none of that. The four names were generated by the Board of Directors and the external community.
As an outside community member, votes weren’t permitted. If we had a vote, however, it would have went to Thunder without hesitation.
But, we digress.
The vote came, and the vote went.
It was open to Staff, Alumni, and Students, and a large number of all three groups came out to vote in the online polls.
Now, this is where things get interesting with the votes.
The following is word-for-word from the aforementioned Results release, announcing the decision to rebrand to the Wolves:
- Survey results shown here showed that Thunder received the majority of votes by a slim margin, but that more students in total voted for some version of Wolves.
- Other considerations included the feedback received through Board linkage with students, the values expressed in the narratives for Thunder and Wolves, the marketability of the name, and the ability to establish an identity on all campuses of Algonquin College.
- Finally, the Board considered what name would most signal a renewed commitment to Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.
Here are the poll breakdowns, by percentage, for Staff, Alumni, and Students. The total number of votes compiled were only released for the Students portion, and not the Staff or Alumni.
53% – Thunder
31% – Wolves
11% – Grey Wolves
5% – Good Wolves
78% – Thunder
12% – Wolves
5% – Grey Wolves
5% – Good Wolves
Students (853 total votes)
49% – Thunder
29% – Wolves
16% – Grey Wolves
6% – Good Wolves
Right off the top, it’s stated that ‘Thunder’ received the majority of the votes across all three groupings, which means that it won the popular vote. However, the Students’ Association combined the totals for the three renditions of ‘Wolves’, thus putting that total at 51% of the student vote.
Now, only 29% of students voted for WOLVES. Not Grey Wolves or Good Wolves, but just Wolves, meaning that Thunder still had the popular vote, even among students. The fact that all three renditions were combined into one total raises concern that minds were made up behind the scenes before the vote had taken place, but the vote was a way to save face.
Second to that, what were the other considerations that were taken into account? Why wasn’t the college community taken into consideration when those discussions were held? In order to establish a unified identity for Algonquin College as a whole, the whole community should have come together as one to make a decision.
At the end of the day, ‘Thunder’ won the Popular Vote, but it was ‘Wolves’ that was chosen as the new brand on Algonquin College.
When the results came out, one situation immediately came to mind – The U.S. Presidential Election from 2016. While Hillary Clinton won the Popular Vote, it was in fact Donald Trump who was named the 45th President of the United States by way of the Electoral Vote.
Obviously there aren’t seats or an Electoral Vote in a rebranding process, but if the popular vote doesn’t matter at the end of the day, then why vote at all?
On their Results Page, the Students’ Association describes a ‘Wolf’ as something that “symbolizes loyalty, strong family ties, good communication, education, understanding, and intelligence.”
The communication during the voting process wasn’t the best, and it wasn’t indicated that all three renditions of ‘Wolves’ would be combined to push it above ‘Thunder’ from a student perspective. They didn’t provide a good understanding of the process, and their lack of acknowledgement to the fact that both their Staff and Alumni voted in favour of Thunder, both by a large margin, shows that Family Ties don’t really matter.
In short, their voting process didn’t embody what a ‘Wolf’ means to the Indigenous Community.
Shortly after the results came out, a petition was created to reverse the name change and keep ‘Thunder’ as the name and identity for not only Algonquin College varsity athletics, but the college community as a whole.
The reasons for signing the petition weren’t in favour of the change by any means, and some didn’t hold back their thoughts on what the decision of President Shandi Cosentino means to them and the community.
From comments questioning the college’s ability to honour the Indigenous customs and traditions when they can’t honour their own vote, to saying that the decision to change the name deletes the history of the college and their athletics programs, the Algonquin College community is bonding together to keep the school’s identity the way it is.
It’s worth noting that President Cosentino will be leaving her post in the summer, and a new President will be elected.
UPDATE: As of 12:30 p.m. EST on Friday, April 3rd, the petition was approaching 900 signatures.
This process isn’t new to Algonquin College, by any means. Over 30 years ago, the Athletic Director at the time had met with the local Algonquin band and had requested several appropriate names that the college could use to brand their athletic teams that would also honour the Indigenous community.
Named the ‘Cats’ at the time, and from the list of potential names that the local elders gave, the name ‘Thunder’ was chosen.
Here’s their description of what ‘Thunder’ means to the Indigenous community:
“In the spring, our Grandfathers, the Thunderers (also referred as our Ancestors), are telling us that winter is over, that life is again returning to Mother Earth, and that the rain will soon come to help crops grow. The Thunderers also help to protect us from evil or danger by sending out loud warnings.”
The goal of the Students’ Association was to create a unified identity for the college community as a whole, while also symbolizing their commitment to Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. Given the fact that ‘Thunder’ was included on the original list more than 30 years ago, one that was provided from the local elders, shows that the name ‘Thunder’ has a strong connection to the local Indigenous community.
Their decision to change the name to ‘Wolves’ is showing them that they had a unified identity the whole time. All the college needed to do was consult those that make up the college community, one that was right in front of their face. Now, the ‘Thunder’ community has begun rallying together in protest of the name change, and their voices are getting louder by the hour.
The ‘Thunder’ is the unified identity that the Student’s Association and college were searching for all along. Changing their name to the ‘Wolves’ will have a reverse effect on their goals, especially when the voting process didn’t symbolize ‘Truth’ or what a ‘Wolf’ means to the community.
Regardless, they will remain the ‘Thunder’ in the hearts of many, both past and present alike, forever.
– T. Bennett
If you are in favour of keeping the name ‘Thunder’, you can sign the petition here.
Information from the Algonquin College Students’ Association contributed to this report.