Written by: Amneet Mann, News Editor
SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA) has published public letters on their Facebook page condemning the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) for their treatment of marginalized groups on campus.
SOCA addresses the SFSS
In their public letter to the SFSS, SOCA noted that the student society’s conduct during negotiations regarding space for SOCA in the Student Union Building (SUB) “is a prime example of the SFSS using the power it has to suppress groups that the SFSS is supposed to work in alliance with.” According to SOCA, the SFSS has currently postponed meetings with the student group, failed to communicate clearly, and acted in “bad faith” during these negotiations.
SOCA has written that their experiences with the SFSS can be traced to “a lack of cultural and racial sensitivity training [within the SFSS] in dealing with marginalized people and marginalized groups.”
SOCA also raised concerns regarding the extent to which SFSS CEO Martin Wyant allegedly controls the SFSS’s space allocation decisions, writing, “we have become increasingly concerned with how operations are controlled by the CEO within the SFSS. Especially when those operations affect marginalized students.”
“There is a pattern with the lack of communication and an overall shredding of the relationships that SFSS has had with many groups including SOCA over the last three years,” added SOCA in their letter. “We wish the conscience of well-meaning board-members to hold itself to account [ . . . ] and realize that it’s the students who are in charge and you can make the hard decisions to fix these systemic issues.”
“On these posts by SOCA, the board as a whole acknowledges the tough spot we find ourselves in and can assure their community of groups that reside within the Rotunda that we are currently in the process of working with them to set up a place and time to work out some issues that SOCA themselves have mentioned,” wrote vice-president student services Samer Rihani.
Rihani added that, as an opening date for the SUB had recently been set, the SFSS board of directors was willing to continue talks with SOCA about extending their sublease in the rotunda beyond December 14, 2018.
SOCA addresses SFU
In a more recent public letter to the SFU administration, SOCA called on the university to “publicly support SOCA in our fight to retain a space on campus.”
SOCA requested that SFU be present in future negotiations regarding space SOCA holds with the SFSS, and that Wyant be excluded from future meetings.
“[Martin Wyant] has caused emotional distress; used marginalized groups as scapegoats and has eroded trust in the SFSS’s intentions due to his lack of empathy in dealings with us,” wrote SOCA.
In an email interview with The Peak, SOCA president Giovanni Hosang mentioned specific interactions with Wyant which turned space negotiations into an “unpleasant experience” for the organization.
Hosang mentioned an instance during a meeting with Wyant about why SOCA felt the organization played an important role on campus and deserved space. SOCA’s executive team was making reference to recommendations made by the United Nations and the Canadian government regarding anti-black racism. The recommendations “implore public institutions to address anti-black racism and create specific pathways for supporting people of African Descent,” wrote Hosang.
According to Hosang, Wyant responded by indicating that the recommendations made by the United Nations were not applicable to the SUB space negotiations between the SFSS and SOCA.
Hosang wrote that in another instance, Wyant suggested that one of the reasons the SFSS was unable to provide space for SOCA was because it is common for many groups to seek space with the claims that they are marginalized.
The Peak reached out to Wyant via email for comment on the above instances alleged by SOCA, but did not receive a response by the publication date of this article.
“These interactions and the actions of the SFSS evicting a black student group [. . .] is a textbook example of institutionalized racism against communities of colour where new developments render the most marginalized groups homeless.” – SOCA executive team in public letter to SFU administrators
“I am concerned to hear the allegations,” commented SFU vice-provost students and international Tim Rahilly. “The university wants to make sure that people who identify as racialized or equity-seeking groups feel that they belong at the university and the university supports them as individuals,” he added.
Rahilly commented that the university is unable to intervene in the negotiations between the SFSS and SOCA as the SFSS is an independent student society. “Individual students at the university are members of the SFSS. And it’s their society. [ . . . ] The university has no control over the actions [of the society]. It’s really the board of the SFSS that is really responsible.”
Rahilly noted that, if both the SFSS and SOCA were willing to resume communication, the university would be willing to “help move this dialogue forward and try to find a resolution that works for the SFSS and for SOCA.”
“But we can’t wave a magic wand unfortunately,” said Rahilly.
SOCA addresses SFU students
In a third Facebook post addressed to SFU students, SOCA has called on students to help raise awareness for their situation through social media using the hashtags #SAVESOCA and #BLACKSPACESMATTER.
SOCA has invited SFU students to sign a petition on change.org advocating against SOCA’s eviction from the Rotunda on December 14 and urging the SFSS to provide SUB space for the student organization.
Hosang has commented to Global News that “if [SOCA] doesn’t get a space by [December 14], there will be a sit-in.”
The student organization has been occupying space in the rotunda since 1997.