By Serena Bains, Staff Writer
SFU has an extensive history of participating in institutional racism against Black students, faculty, and staff. The hesitancy to acknowledge and address the SFU athletics team name of the ‘Clan’ continues to be one of SFU’s most blatant displays of racism against Black students in particular.
Black student activists put years of physical and emotional labour behind a collective goal to change the name due to its associations with the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy, and the harm the association has caused Black athletes. Because of the association, there were multiple incidents as a result of the name that student athletes and coaches had to endure due to SFU’s inaction.
After years of labour and undue burden, the work of Black students and allies came to fruition as a name change was announced. Former SFU president Andrew Petter announced the name change in a problematic statement which completely ignored the work of Black students, the negative connotations of the previous name, and the harm his years of inaction caused.
“We were truly relieved that the community actively supported Black athletes’ calls for SFU to drop the triggering team name. However, we were disappointed – but unsurprised – by the blatant systemic racism at play on SFU’s part throughout the whole name-change process,” said Balqees (she/her/hers), a member of the BIPOC committee, in an interview with The Peak.
In response to Petter’s statement, the Simon Fraser Student Society’s (SFSS) BIPOC committee created an email campaign called #OURDecisionSFU.
The campaign “list[s] a few concerns regarding the statement pertaining to the SFU Athletics team name, followed by calls to action for SFU to rectify the situation by:
- Publicly stating that SFU is dropping the ‘Clan’ name due to its racist connotation with the Ku Klux Klan [ . . . ]
- Publicly, and specifically, acknowledging the harm inflicted and unpaid labour forced on Black students and athletes [ . . . ] crediting those who spent countless hours advocating and organizing for the name change [ . . . ]
- Upholding the health values of the Okanagan Charter [ . . . ]
- Supporting Black students with specific resources for Black athletes.”
Balqees continued, “The BIPOC Committee launched #OURDecisionSFU to continue supporting the name-change movement that Black athletes and students started years ago. We want to make sure that the process of the name-change is done with honour and respect to BIPOC, and that SFU adequately supports our Black student athletes and POC allies who faced the burden and trauma at the forefront of this advocacy.”
Othniel (he/him/his), the student athlete who created the petition for the name change, stated, “Although from what I’ve seen from SFU’s action for the name change is acknowledgeable. I don’t believe it’s enough.
“First, the lack of recognition of those that spearheaded this change is just saddening. Second, the truth behind my involvement during the petition for the name change was to ensure that people understood how the team name has a racist connotation, thus easily traumatizing and creating a discomforted space for student-athletes of colour that have to wear it every day. However, that wasn’t fully addressed in the statement.”
Marie (she/her/hers), a member of the BIPOC committee, spoke to the deception of Petter’s statement.
“Andrew Petter disingenuously deemed the name change as his own decision in his statement on the athletics name-change,” said Marie.
“It is unjust for SFU to claim this decision as purely the University’s choice, especially after years of systemically overlooking and gaslighting Black Athletes’ concerns, when we know it was our collective community pressure that forced the institution to act.
She continued, “During the summer of 2020, BIPOC organizers put in 20-30 hours of weekly unpaid labour all the while experiencing reliving the emotional trauma caused by the issue.
“The goal of these organized efforts were to usher in a movement in hopes of pressuring and cornering the University to listen to the calls of Black Athletes suffering. To say the athletics name-change was SFU’s decision is deceiving – this was our decision.”
The campaign outlines their demands, concerns, background on the issue, and provides an email template to demonstrate support for the initiative. In their demands, #OURDecisionSFU also calls on President Joy Johnson, who has stated on multiple occasions that equity, diversity, and inclusion, is one of her top priorities.
“[T]he BIPOC Committee invited President Joy Johnson to our regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the campaign’s calls to action, along with anti-racism initiatives at SFU as a whole,” said Balqees.
“On October 19th, we were joined by Joy and AVP Rummana Khan Hemani, who oversees student services at SFU. While we are grateful for having productive conversation, we have yet to see enough action to redress the harms of the former team name.
“We’re glad to hear that Joy committed to releasing a public statement from the Office of the President regarding the athletics team name change, though we were disappointed that we did not receive a commitment to a specific date when we asked for a timeline,” expressed Balqees.
In terms of what’s next for the #OURDecisionSFU campaign, Marie stated the following:
“It’s essential that we continue to amplify BIPOC voices. The SFSS will continue to hold the institution accountable and demand that SFU allocate much needed resources to BIPOC Athletes suffering trauma due to their former team name. As an ally, I have taken a commitment in fighting and amplifying for Athlete’s – I will do so until the harms of the former team name are redressed and the athletes are provided with the adequate resources they deserve.”
The campaign to date has resulted in 204 emails sent of their goal of 500. To learn more about #OURDecisionSFU visit https://sfss.ca/ourdecsionsfu/