By Balqees Jama, SFSS Board of Directors (At-Large Rep)
Recent SFU Student Activism
SFU has witnessed a wave of student activism over the last couple of years that was inspired in 2018 by an interconnected combination of movements on campus. This includes women’s rights advocacy sparked by the impeachment of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) president, calls for equity within our student society over the Rotunda Space issue, and the ongoing battle against yearly tuition increases. Student activists organized around issues, mobilizing to pressure both SFSS and SFU for equity and transparency in the way both organizations make decisions.
The highly politicized campus climate led to engaged student activists being elected as SFSS representatives with a mandate of building back student power. The SFSS is a student-led organization that represents and advocates for the rights and interests of the 25,000+ undergraduate students at SFU. It provides undergraduate events, services, and advocacy to SFU. The Society continues to advocate for anti-oppressive practices and structural support for students during COVID-19 advocacy.
SFSS has successfully lobbied for the construction of the Burnaby Mountain Gondola, mobilized students across North America to take action for climate justice and Indigenous rights, and supported the Don’t Forget Students campaign.
Attacks on Student Democracy
Currently, the SFSS consists of two governing bodies: the Board of Directors and the Council. The Board consists of 16 elected student representatives, including six Executive Officers that carry out the day-to-day responsibilities of the Society, and 10 Faculty and At-Large Representatives.
The Council is an advisory body to the Board and serves as a space for students across SFU to connect and bring their issues to the governance table. It represents every faculty and departmental student union at SFU, and equity-seeking constituency groups including the Women’s Centre, First Nations Students Association (FNSA), Disability and Neurodiversity Alliance (DNA), Out on Campus (OOC), and Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA).
Unfortunately, there have been attacks on Council from the Board in recent years. In the spring of 2017, Councillors mobilized against by-law changes which diminished the Council’s role in the Society, removing its role in SFSS governance with the intention of eradicating Council.
SFSS by-laws are governing rules and principles agreed upon by membership that define our governing structure. In Spring 201–20, Council held the Board accountable for their decision to go against providing equity-seeking groups space in the new SUB. The Board drafted by-laws in response that removed the Council’s governance powers, systemically writing Council out of existence.
This year’s elected Board scrapped those drafts and worked with Council to create new by-law proposals for membership to vote on at the SFSS 2020 Annual General Meeting. When it comes to equity and representation, SFSS must ensure that Council’s powers are systemically ingrained into our governance structure so that student democracy is protected.
SFSS 2020 Annual General Meeting
Moving Towards Equity and Democracy
To advance student advocacy efforts, the SFSS Board and Council have worked together to propose a new model for the Society that involves redistribution of governance power to a more diverse range of students at SFU.
The SFSS Board proposes that Council become the new legal Board of Directors, as defined in the BC legislation we follow. The model aims to establish the new executive role of VP Equity and Sustainability within SFSS.
As part of the anti-oppressive shift within the student body, the newly proposed model ensures that marginalized equity-seeking groups have a direct vote at the decision-making level of student governance. These would include the Women’s Centre, FNSA, DNA, OOC, and SOCA.
SFSS Condemnation Vote Against SFU Tuition Increases
After refusing to join students’ calls to lobby the BC government together for increased educational funding, SFU is raising tuition during the COVID-19 pandemic. A motion is being proposed at the AGM to condemn SFU tuition increases as a student body.
SFSS President Osob Mohamed’s briefing note on the tuition condemnation states the significance sending a unified message to the SFU institution:
“A formal, public group condemnation can be a powerful tool in the lead up to a bigger action, and to a direct concession from the University in the near future.”
Why it’s Important to Vote at the SFSS AGM
Along with the regular procedural matters that the student society updates membership about, such as the financial status of the Society, students can actively participate in student democracy by vocalizing their thoughts and ideas.
It’s essential that membership votes in favour of adopting the structural changes proposed in the new bylaws; it would be the start of a new era for the SFSS.
These systemic changes in our student union would advance student engagement and advocacy efforts, including fighting against tuition hikes, providing academic advocacy, advancing SFU’s role in racial and climate justice, and more. The new structure would be a move towards equity and democracy, as it systemically redistributes power to students to include representation of every faculty and departmental student union and marginalized group on campus.
How to Vote at the Oct 26 SFSS AGM
All undergraduate students are encouraged to attend and participate in the SFSS AGM on Oct 26 at 3:30 p.m. Cast your vote in formally condemning SFU tuition hikes as a student body and vote to build student power within the Society through equity and democracy.
Quorum is reached at 250 members, the minimum number of members required to conduct AGM business. Changes to SFSS bylaws must pass by a 2/3 majority to be successful. All relevant AGM documents are available for download.
By attending the AGM, students will be automatically entered in the draw to win prizes ranging from Skip The Dishes gift cards to smart tablets, and more. There is also a prize for the student union that has the highest number of students to attend the AGM.
SFSS 2020 Annual General Meeting Details
Date: Monday, October 26, 2020
Time: 3:30 p.m.–6:30 p.m.
Register on the Eventbrite page.
See Relevant AGM Documents: bit.ly/SFSS2020AGM