by Emma Jean, Staff Writer
To say that the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) has received a lot of rightful flack over the years is an understatement. Cover-ups of assault allegations, votes to remove Black spaces and sustainability initiatives on campus, and presidential impeachments have plagued their administrations over the past few years. However, the current SFSS Board’s response to the violent December 11 arrest of a Black alumnus on campus is not one of those rightful times.
I cannot offer better commentary on the violence than those who experience racism themselves. SFU’s Black Caucus states that they are “relentlessly violated by persistent anti-Black racism and state-sanctioned violence where [they] live and work.” Former SFSS President Giovanni HoSang has also written on the situation extensively. I can apply my experience, however, to the purpose of the SFSS as an organization.
When news of the incident spread, members of the SFSS were quick to address it. On Twitter, President Osob Mohamed condemned the actions of SFU’s security and their failure to act ethically. Vice President of University Relations Gabe Liosis publicly called for any information on the event as it developed. Several days later, the SFSS itself published a condemnation letter and suggested that SFU follow suit and take action on the systemic issue.
What followed the SFSS’ statement were waves of student pushback online, much of it claiming the incident was unnecessarily politicized and deemed racist. Petitions were even formed demanding that the SFSS be barred from making public statements without an extensive student consultation process, if they make any political statements at all.
These vocal complaints directed at the SFSS fail to recognize two key things. The first is that, as elected politicians, their jobs are to represent the interests of the student population that voted for them, not the institution of SFU itself. Their jobs are inherently political. It’s an institution created by and maintained on politics. Any statement they make is inherently political, no matter what it is, as is the statement of any group of elected officials.
Second, when something like this happens on campus, it calls into question the safety and well-being of Black students, who already deal with the precedent of disproportionate police violence. This culture of racism isn’t new to SFU, either. It’s been statistically proven from SFU’s own diversity evaluations that just under 10% of Black individuals surveyed at SFU feel that they don’t need to change themselves to be heard and accepted at SFU. It’s no wonder; the leadership at SFU is largely white in contrast to the greater student body and staff. It’s quite literally institutional racism in action.
Just like with any other politicians, it is the SFSS leaders’ responsibility to alert the student body of the incident as soon as possible, recognize how it impacts them and their safety, and make demands to SFU on what to do about it. If the SFSS were to wait two-to-three weeks to consult public opinion, find a supposed “unbiased” source to which these complaints often refer, and avoid any outside context and history, they would be doing a horrific job of representing students — especially Black students whose well-being is always in more jeopardy. The demands of these petitions essentially insist that the SFSS not do their job.
SFU Progressives, a student coalition that many of the SFSS’ leaders belong to, ran on a campaign of social progress that defends the needs of students who are underrepresented in SFU’s leadership and actions. They were voted into power because the majority of students who voted stood by their platform. Just because their statements don’t align with the opinions of certain students, doesn’t mean they aren’t representing the student body as a whole. Even if this commitment wasn’t part of their electoral ethos, they still wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t acknowledge the facts, context, and history of the incident and call it out for what it is.
The job of the SFSS is to represent the needs and interests of students. Considering the arrest fits into a larger pattern of institutional racism and violence — both on campus and beyond — it is absolutely necessary for them to recognize this larger trend for the safety of Black students on campus. Let’s hope they continue to put SFU’s feet to the fire, and that sometime soon SFU will start to truly listen.