HALIFAX -- A timely lecture at Saint Mary's University on Friday examined issues of gender, equality and race in the world of hockey. By bringing together those involved with the sport, organizers of the event facilitated a nuanced conversation that aimed to bring understanding to the variety of identities involved in the game.

SMU sport and health scholar, Cheryl MacDonald, prepared with one simple strategy in mind, noting she wanted attendees "to sit down face-to-face and talk to each other and understand each other's experiences.”

“The hockey community can be very insular," says MacDonald, who originally intended to focus solely on gender and sexuality and how those subjects are being discussed in arenas and locker rooms across the country.

However, recent controversies impacting the hockey world prompted her to expand the focus of her discussion on race as well.

MacDonald’s expertise is in academics as well as hockey – something she wants to leverage and to spark a broader conversation, which she hopes informs her research.

MacDonald says the way young hockey players communicate with each other has already changed over a short period.

"A lot of us can agree that 10 to 15 years ago, we would have been talking about homophobia and perhaps not as much about race or mental health, for instance," says MacDonald.

And those involved with the sport agree.

“It’s equality now,” says SMU hockey player, Anthony Repaci. "It's a multi-cultural game now. It's for both genders, and what you say is going to have an impact away from the rink as well."

“I think it's becoming more of a topic," says SMU hockey player, Kiana Wilkinson. “I think education is really important."

Meanwhile, MacDonald says young hockey players are learning to see their game and the role they play in it with more positivity and inclusion. She notes she hopes athletes will take what they learn into their lives – both on and off the ice.

"Positive mental health, accepting people's gender and sexuality, not being racist – it's all just expanding your knowledge to understand what other people are going through," says MacDonald.