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Saint Mary's University under cloud of controversy again, this time over tweets

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HALIFAX - Saint Mary's University is once again snarled in controversy over questionable behaviour by students, this time after members of its football team allegedly sent hateful, racist and sexist tweets.

The Halifax university said Tuesday 10 football players have been suspended from the team for allegedly sending the tweets. A spokesman for the school declined an interview request, but said in an email that no other players were being investigated.

The suspensions came after the school made national headlines last year following a frosh week chant that glorified sex with underage girls.

Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhousie University, said he was surprised to hear of the offensive content contained in the tweets just months after the student-led chant attracted criticism and sparked a review.

"Not only was there the sexist and violence against women element to it, which was front and centre in the Saint Mary's study, but also racism, homophobia — a whole range of things," MacKay said.

"It's particularly disappointing that this would happen ... so soon after the media focus on Saint Mary's."

MacKay wrote a report released in December that contained 20 recommendations on cultural changes to prevent sexual violence and inspire respectful behaviour at Saint Mary's University — a report the school endorsed.

The suspensions followed a report in an online publication produced by students at the University of King's College School of Journalism that cited a number of tweets from accounts it said belonged to football team members.

One tweet cited in the UNews article from the Twitter account of a Rhys Tansley read, "b**ch get on yo knees."

However, a direct message on Twitter from Tansley's account to The Canadian Press said that tweet was taken out of context, directed towards his girlfriend and quoted a YouTube video called "unforgivable."

"We share a sense of humour," the message Tuesday from his Twitter account said.

Another message said he has not been a member of the Saint Mary's University football team since the end of September when he suffered a concussion and has transferred schools.

The UNews article also cites another one of Tansley's tweets: "to that b**ch that bit me last night. Hope you're dead in a ditch. you are scum."

A message Tuesday about that tweet said he was working as a security guard and while escorting an unruly patron out of the bar one night, a woman bit his left bicep and spit in his face.

"I was angry about what happened. I do what the majority of young adults do and expressed my emotions and thoughts on twitter."

Tansley declined to be interviewed. The Twitter account was later deleted.

Messages from a Facebook account belonging to a Keith Langille, whose name and tweet were also cited in the UNews article, said he is a former football player for Saint Mary's University who transferred in early September, and that he retweeted a joke that dealt with race and penis size.

"I am very apologetic about my actions and in no way ever meant to offend anybody," said a message to The Canadian Press from his Facebook account. "I am in no way racist towards anybody."

He also declined to be interviewed.

Staci Simpson, a co-ordinator at the SMU Women's Centre, commended the university for its swift reaction to the tweets, but added that suspending the players doesn't go far enough.

"Suspension is a good first step, but I do think there are other things that we could be doing to change this attitude," said Simpson, adding that the players could volunteer at a women's shelter.

"We need to be persistent."

The school has said it may also decide to impose further academic discipline.

MacKay said the public's immediate and negative reaction to the tweets suggests that our culture is beginning to change for the better.

"We're moving to a cultural shift on these things, where it's simply not acceptable and most people do not think this is anything that should be tolerated," he said.

Follow @AlyThomson on Twitter

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