Simon Fraser University on Burnaby Mountain. (SFU)

SFU signs charter pledging action against anti-Black racism on campus

SFU is one of 40 post-secondary institutions to sign on to the charter, which pledges several specific actions on combating anti-Black racism in Canadian schools and fostering Black inclusion.

By Srushti Gangdev | November 19, 2021 |5:00 am

SFU announced Thursday that it has signed on to the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education.

The university is one of 40 post-secondary institutions to sign on to the charter, which pledges several specific actions on combating anti-Black racism in Canadian schools and fostering Black inclusion.

SFU’s special advisor to the president on anti-racism, Dr June Francis, provided feedback to the charter’s writers.

Francis told the Beacon that the charter came about in the aftermath of what she called the “George Floyd awakening”, where conversations about anti-Black racism were sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minneapolis last year.

Specific actions to redress and address inequities

“There was a groundswell of feelings across the educational institutions in Canada that educational institutions had failed Black Canadians in a number of areas across the university. There was a sense that Black students were experiencing universities in ways where their history, their worldviews, they were experiencing racism in their classrooms,” Francis said.

“They were not thriving. Black faculty, likewise, faced a research system that was not conducive to the work they wanted to do and staff, likewise, were not flourishing. And the result of that is reflected in the very low levels of full-time Black faculty members, full-time senior administrators in universities across the country … [The charter] is intended to call on universities to take specific actions to redress and address these inequities, specifically around Black students, staff and faculty.”

The charter calls on institutions to support Black associations within schools, like SFU’s Black Caucus and SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry. Both of those organizations were involved in writing the charter.

It also says universities need to put better supports in place for Black faculty and staff, and work with Indigenous groups in universities to ensure their community voices are heard.

Francis said one of the most important actions will be for universities to collect data on the experiences of Black staff, students and faculty within institutions. She said that’s been lacking in the past.

“Calling on institutions to start to monitor, and ensure that justice for Black students or faculty, I think, is an important starting point. Because without data—and I don’t just mean numbers, all kinds of data can be qualitative—it’s hard to make the case in this context for us to understand what’s happening in a formal and structured way that we could deal with,” Francis said.

Cause for optimism

She added that the actions taken in the past year at SFU to combat anti-Black racism are cause for optimism, including her own appointment as advisor to the president and a recent motion passed by the Senate to hire 15 Black faculty members across the university’s departments.

That motion was brought forward by president of the Simon Fraser Student Society, Gabe Liosis, but was written by former president Osob Mohamed.

“There is a huge lack of lived experience represented by Black folks and programs and disciplines across the university. I can say confidently that I’m in my third year as an SFU student, and I’ve never once had a Black professor and I think that that rings true for many SFU students,” Liosis told the Beacon in September.

Francis said the signing of the charter itself also represents a “high degree of receptivity” to Black voices by SFU, giving Francis enormous optimism.

“Where I think we have a lot of work left, and there is an enormous amount of work, is that this institution has been built on valorizing and centering white normative standards and colonial standards,” she said.

Work to do

Francis said that’s evident in all areas of the university from teaching, to classrooms, to the construction of libraries, to student and staff experiences, to the ways research is supported.

That means that every department and office on campus needs to have its own action plan to combat anti-Black racism.

“Until that is done and until it’s elevated across the university, and deeply embedded in all the programs and grounds, we are not there. We’re at the point where there seems to be a positive direction, and I am optimistic about that. But let’s not underestimate the amount of work that needs to be done.”

Several other BC post-secondary institutions are signatories to the charter, including UBC, UNBC, and Kwantlen.

“SFU is signing the Scarborough Charter so we can hold ourselves accountable to combating anti-Black racism and building more equitable systems,” SFU president Joy Johnson said in a release.

“All Black members of the SFU community deserve to feel safe and included on our campuses, and we can—and must—take tangible action towards that goal. I’m heartened to see so many institutions making this commitment and excited to see the progress we make together.”

Srushti Gangdev

Reporter at Burnaby Beacon

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