After the SFSS Executive Director consultation, there’s room for hope

This meeting could be step one in improving relations between student groups and the SFSS

Photo courtesy of SFU

Written by: Gene Cole, Opinions Editor

On January 8, the SFSS held an open consultation for students regarding the hiring of the new Executive Director (ED), a newer variant of the old CEO role. For those who don’t know about this particular odd role, it’s essentially a non-student staff member who guides and oversees the SFSS’s actions.

This consultation was led by the Leaders International Executive Search, a search firm which the the SFSS has hired to seek applicants for the position. The firm answered questions about their process and asked for feedback on what students wanted from the position. To make it an open space for students to speak their mind, no SFSS representatives were present.

This experience felt surprisingly positive. Members of several different student groups — including Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA), CJSF, and Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group  — attended to give their feedback, and the vibe in the room was a lot more hopeful than it usually is when voicing comments about the SFSS. From my experience in the meeting, and in talking to some of the students who attended, I think we as students can start to hope students have more influence on the SFSS as a whole.

This isn’t to say that the SFSS’s problems are “fixed” after this meeting — far from it — but rather that the new ED may be a point where our relationship with the SFSS could improve.

More accountability with the staff and the board

One of the things echoed by a number of students was that we wanted someone who could take responsibility for the SFSS’s mistakes. Sheldon Bond, a First Nations student who attended the meeting and spoke with the Peak afterward, described the ED’s pressures succinctly; “even though it’s not [their] fault the way things are, it’s still going to be [their] problem.”

Tony Kirschner, a partner at Leaders International Executive Search who was leading the consultation, echoed this sentiment when students brought it up at the consultation, saying they were indeed searching for someone who likes to clean up “messes.” This gave some reassurance that the school and SFSS are fully aware of their situation, and of how much an ED can change how students feel about the SFSS. This meeting did not feel run by a students-second agenda.

An ED who can handle this is something that students have a right to, particularly just before the next SFSS elections. In speaking with The Peak after the consultation, SOCA president Giovanni HoSang described the position as “well-suited to have a structural change,” further stating that the vacant position is “an opportunity to have somebody who is very much aligned with the values of the students at large.”

Greater communication with students, particularly marginalized groups

One of the key issues attendees mentioned was how many student groups were unfairly treated by many student groups when working with the SFSS, particularly those that represent Black and Indigenous students. HoSang mentioned it in his discussion with The Peak as well, stating “we have to make sure the board is listening and fighting on behalf of marginalized groups on campus.” During the meeting, the search firm went as far as to ask where they could see instances of institutional racism towards the student groups.

While this consultation was not intended to focus on these groups, they were predominantly the ones who showed up to demand an ED who supports and actively requests the concerns of student groups. Rachel Gorelick, a production assistant at CJSF who spoke to The Peak after attending the meeting, put it quite aptly. “[ . . . ] So many students on this campus are completely unaware of how these groups and individuals are actually pushing and advocating for students to have the best possible time and best possible life on campus.”

This consultation was a rare kind of SFSS-related meeting we could use a lot more of. The search firm asked follow-up questions, asked about what times the student body might be able to hold similar meetings, and politely requested where they could learn more about the problems students have experienced thus far — all things that shouldn’t feel so rare.

As HoSang put it, “I think was an opportunity to share things for the first time.” With a new ED, it certainly doesn’t have to be the last.

An ability for students to help influence change

There are certainly still concerns about how much this student feedback will impact the decision. The search firm leading the consultation is searching for applicants, but neither they nor the students are the ones who ultimately choose who gets hired. Bond addressed this concern while talking with The Peak, stating how “they get to choose whether to listen to our feedback or not.” Gorelick addressed a similar sentiment, stating how “obviously there’s so much more that could be done.”

Nonetheless, this consultation was a positive experience that I feel we deserve more of. The students are evidently willing to provide their concerns in great detail, and were pleased to do so. While the SFSS was not in attendance, they’ll hopefully learn how this meeting made students feel, and how more meetings like this would be a step in the right direction.

In an email interview with acting president and vice-president of student services Samer Rihani, he described how the SFSS is “looking for an ED who is able to work closely with all student groups around campus, while also bringing lots of experience from past projects/positions to ensure the needs of the student body are not only well represented, but also in capable hands.” This consultation makes me feel more confident that our voices could be heard further.

The things we got to experience in this consultation perhaps weren’t that dramatic. But compared to what’s been experienced over the past year alone, it’s felt like a huge milestone. People came out of this meeting feeling genuinely positive, and it’s a refreshing change from most students’ experiences with the SFSS.