Written by: Amneet Mann, News Editor


At the latest Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) board of directors meeting, the organizations operating within the Rotunda attended and discussed concerns regarding space in the Student Union Building (SUB).

Groups represented at the meeting included the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG), the First Nations Student Association (FNSA), Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA), campus radio station CJSF, and the mental health advocacy group Hi F.I.V.E.

SFSS vice-president external relations Jasdeep Gill began the conversation by stating that the current board “remain[ed] committed” to the shared-space model of the SUB which the 2017–18 board of directors had decided upon. Under this model, four of the SUB’s organizational suites would be split among various clubs. The society has not yet disclosed further details on how this model would work.

In light of the SUB’s delayed opening, Gill said that the society was willing to extend the Rotunda groups’ current subleases. The original eviction date indicated by the subleases was December 14, 2018.

“We would like to see if there’s anything that we’ve done that hasn’t been appropriate, and address those concerns directly,” said Gill.


Claims of institutional racism addressed

Computing science student and SFPIRG board member Adriano D’Alessandro expressed that SFPIRG seeks a sublease extension, SUB space, “accountability from the board to the students,” and acknowledgement of “how institutional racism has impacted these issues.”

“We’ve been out there talking to students everyday [ . . . ] we’ve collected 1,200 signatures, which is more than most of you were voted in on in terms of votes,” he said, referring to SFPIRG’s space campaign. SFSS president Jas Randhawa obtained the highest number of votes in this year’s election for the board of directors, being voted in by 1,206 students.

Vice-president student life Tawanda Masawi responded to the mentions of alleged institutional racism.

Addressing SOCA president Giovanni Hosang, he called SOCA’s approach “both unacceptable and unprofessional” and “misrepresent[ative] of our black community here at SFU.”

“Bringing forward illegitimate claims of racism minimizes instances of actual racism.” – Tawanda Masawi, SFSS vice-president student life

SOCA had recently published public letters to the SFSS, SFU, and students in which the organization condemned the student society for their conduct during space negotiations, calling it a “textbook example of institutionalized racism.”

“If you have claims of racism, I think you need to address them professionally and the SFSS will address any claims of racism accordingly,” said Masawi.

“I think there is a lack of understanding of what institutional racism is,” responded Hosang.

“Institutional racism is the collective failure of an organization to provide appropriate and professional services to the community of color. [ . . . ] It’s the [ . . . ] policies and others that disenfranchise people of colour, that most disproportionately affects people of colour,” said Hosang. “Right now, evicting a black student group on campus is the definition of institutional racism.”

Hosang also noted that in 2016, an anti-racism policy was repealed within the SFSS.

The policy, “AP-5: Anti-Racism” in the SFSS Policy Manual in effect in 2011, officially “recognize[d] racism as a form of discrimination” and committed the SFSS to maintaining racial and cultural diversity.

AP-5 was repealed during a policy overhaul in a 2016 board meeting. An analogous policy was not included in the current SFSS board policies.

“If the SFSS refuses to make amends for this situation, we call on all the board of directors to apologize and resign,” said Hosang. “This is an embarrassment [to] the SFSS. You need to remove the CEO as the CEO of the SFSS. [ . . . ] You all need to do better.”


Objections to the shared-space model of the SUB

“I’m seeing a shared-space model as problematic,” said Steven Hall, a FNSA member and double-major student at SFU. Previously a Langara College student, Hall recounted Langara’s conversion of their LGBTQ-dedicated space into a shared space, where the school had students “rip everything out” that related to the LGBTQ+ community.

“If we’re going for a shared model, I have seen it and I’ve witnessed it. It doesn’t work.” – Steven Hall, FNSA member

SFSS applied sciences representative Kia Mirsalehi acknowledged that the SFSS had failed to adequately communicate with the groups present, but noted that the the board had not yet decided the details of the shared-space model.

“When we have 300 clubs and 50 student unions and only four spaces, [ . . . ] we need to take a look at it and, instead of giving one of our four rooms to one of our 300 groups, try to look at how to most effectively share,” Mirsalehi said.

Mirsalehi also stated that the “attacks against Martin [Wyant],” the SFSS CEO, were misinformed, as Wyant was in favour of giving SFPIRG and CJSF space. “The board was the people that went and disagreed to it,” he said, referring to the student representatives.

Kalamity Hildebrandt, SFPIRG director of research and education, did not consider bookable, shared space a viable model for organizations that work with marginalized groups.

“Bookable space doesn’t work for an organization with staff, [or] an organization that has to do ongoing, deep, meaningful work where there has to be continuity and equipment,” said Hildenbrandt. “Could the SFSS function, with its staff, using bookable space?”


Hildenbrandt urged the board not to represent “some sort of mythical, typical student,” but to “identify what sections of the student body face systemic marginalization and to take proactive steps to make sure those students’ needs are met.”

“If you’re not doing inclusive governance, you are by definition doing oppressive governance.” – Kalamity Hildebrandt, SFPIRG direction of research and education

“It is near-impossible anywhere in this city to have your cultural event without fighting the system,” said Shaneza Sharmila Bacchus, SOCA member and Burnaby campus employee. “To tell people on campus, ‘oh, you can find space somewhere else, you can operate outside of campus’ . . . you’re silencing them and you’re sending them into oblivion.”


Problems negotiating with the SFSS

Jesse Wentzloff, CJSF public affairs and talk coordinator, called CJSF’s space negotiations with the SFSS “entirely one-sided.”

“We’ve been sent messages of when a meeting is and not told what it is, what is going to happen during the meeting except on very short notice,” he said.

Multiple speakers brought forth concerns regarding the three-days notice they had been given for the current meeting.

Hildebrandt and Hall mentioned that many mebers of their respective groups were unavailable at the scheduled meeting time.

“For you to send a formal report three days before we have to present is unacceptable,” said former SOCA executive Stanley Rasahi. “How are we supposed to prepare and actually give you our grievances? ‘Cause there aren’t just grievances that have just happened over three days.”


Moving forward

“It’s a challenging thing to have this conversation,” said vice-president university relations Jackson Freedman.

Freedman felt the meeting would prompt a larger conversation among the board members in the following weeks. “We’re developing a model; we want to see what we can do to make this as effective as possible,” he said.

“It has clearly been found out today we don’t have an effective model for SUB space.” – Jackson Freedman, SFSS vice-president university relations

Freedman noted that there was room for further consultation with the groups, and that the conversation would continue in the following months.

Vice-president student services Samer Rihani commented that, following these discussions, the starting point for reopening negotiations would be to revisit the current subleases in the Rotunda.

“We can’t wave our wand and promise you guys a billion things and sign a contract [ . . . ] we cannot promise to jump right to the SUB because we haven’t gotten there yet,” said Rihani. “We can at least build a relationship within the Rotunda; let’s see where a positive relationship gets us from there.”

Hosang urged the board to not leave the decision to the following year’s board. “If you think the next board should take this up again, it’s emotionally draining on us to come again and explain,” he said.

“A lot of board members have been telling me on the side that this is a separation between personal and professional, but that’s not it for us. It’s our identities, it’s our very existence,” said Hosang.


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