The radicalization of social sciences and humanities students at SFU

SFU students share their stories of becoming radicalized against the status quo

Photo courtesy of SFU News.

By Harvin Bhathal, Alison Wick, Madeleine Chan, Emma Jean, Kim Regala

Simon Fraser University (SFU) is an environment that fosters radicalization against the current economic, political, and social systems in place. Whether it is from the inactions of the university regarding Indigenous and/or environmental issues, or learning how to critically think through its various social sciences and humanities programs taught by professors (i.e. Communication, Political Science, Geography, Criminology, Sociology, Indigenous Studies, etc.), students often leave SFU radicalized.

Radicalism refers to advocating for social and political reform that bypass incremental changes – changes that maintain the status quo. To be radicalized is to experience emotional response(s) to a relentless assortment of social injustices, and actively seeking a means of pushing for necessary change because if not them, who else will?

Students at SFU shared their paths to radicalization, and what they are doing about it. Here are their stories.

Alison Wick, Peak Associate

Program: Indigenous Studies Major, Publishing Minor

Positionality: She/her/hers, fifth-year white settler student

I think that some programs are significantly more radical — and produce more radicalized students — than others. For myself, I would say that I have been educated in radical teaching by my profs and my peers — who are very distinct from SFU as an institution. That education is what has allowed me to think more deeply and critically about the society I live in and my place in it. This has been through taking courses across disciplines and especially been from finding community within my major department, Indigenous Studies. The flexibility in taking and selecting courses is a significant reason I still actually recommend SFU, after all the institutions fuckery. There are a lot of opportunities to take courses across disciplines, programs, and campuses, which allows you to meet new people and communities in ways my friends at other schools haven’t been able to. 

The Indigenous Studies program is one of the most radical departments because the program is about learning erased histories, marginalized voices, and positioning yourself. Taking a variety of courses and spending time in radical departments allows me to more radically approach my studies and life as a whole. And that’s not even mentioning the long and ongoing history of student activism in our student body that has certainly changed me for the better.

Madeleine Chan, Opinions Editor

Program: Communication Major, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Minor

Positionality: Mixed Chinese-Canadian, non-binary, queer

I have a lot of privilege. I haven’t had to worry about not having the means to survive, police targeting me for the colour of my skin, and I’m able to attend a post-secondary school. Yet, I still belong to multiple marginalized communities. Enter my studies at SFU. I started in communication and quickly learned about the fucked up way that the world operates with the callous creed of capitalism, systemic gender disparities, and hegemonic power structures that seem infallible. My awareness of this only grew when I started a GSWS minor and I learned about how all of these things have affected and continue to affect multiple marginalized identities and communities. 

Growing awareness of social issues through things like social media just solidified my commitment to advocating for change. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and decided to help, but I slowly learned that through my privilege of being able to attend university among other things that I had the power to do so. If not for the ideal of people not suffering for who they are, but for the parts of me that suffer along with them in this capitalist and patriarchal society that seeks to push us down.

Emma Jean, Staff Writer

Program: Communication Major, Political Science Minor

Positionality: Speaking from the perspective of a queer, white, middle class cis woman, I cannot speak on behalf of the experiences of racialized, trans or low income people, nor do I intend to

Growing up, I was increasingly aware of the racism, sexism, and homophobia in the world; it came first by experiencing or witnessing it first-hand, and then learning it had a name through the media. I wanted to work against them, but each issue felt categorized as generally isolated, individual issues that required completely different courses of action. If each of these issues had very different surface-level tools of oppression, what was the common tool used to fuel it? It wasn’t until I started taking Labour Studies courses that I fully realized: money, money, and money. All of these groups experience varying degrees of economic oppression, often with intersectional overlap. This determines access to social rights, legal abilities, proper healthcare, and other things a human beings deserve that are often taken for granted by those who possess them. 

I always considered myself to be some kind of socialist, but from learning more about the world around me, I became more invested in a system where a country treats each person as having inherent worth rather than being discriminated against for the circumstances they were born into. I am incredibly grateful that the Labour Studies program gave me the tools to fully realize that. 

Kim Regala, Peak Associate

Program: Communication Major, Film Studies Minor

Positionality: Filipino-Canadian, cis-female

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a radicalized person, but I am passionate about many things. At 16, I learned about Vancouver’s homelessness crisis when I met and heard first-hand the story of a person living through poverty. It was also around that time when I had gotten a job in retail, where for the next three years, I was exposed to the wasteful practices of fast fashion. My natural curiosity led me to further understand these social injustices within our current systems in place. However, I kept these thoughts to myself, rarely entering the dangerous territories of political and social debate, as to avoid confrontation and argument. That is, until I entered university. Passively distilled in me through SFU’s Communication program was a drive to apply all of this knowledge to action. One class in particular — CMNS 349: Environment, Media and Communication — exposed me to the harsh realities of the climate crisis and media framing. Learning about the use of media to deflect blame away from larger structures of power made me recognize the importance of advocacy and grassroots activism. 

Now you may not see me in every single protest or running for political leadership anytime soon, but I can say that I participate more in those political and social debates I would once shy away from. I admit that it gets exhausting to engage in these conversations, especially with ones that end in disagreement, but it’s important that we continue to make our voices heard, because only then can we create meaningful change.