Students question lack of diversity among SFU’s top leadership roles

The SFSS attempted to express concerns with SFU, but explained that they have been excluded

PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

by Karissa Ketter, News Writer

There has been discussion among SFU students online regarding the implementation of white faculty and staff to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) policies. Though President Joy Johnson and Vice-President, Academic and Provost Catherine Dauvergne placed emphasis on implementing EDI policies, students have criticized the administration’s handling of BIPOC issues. 

The BIPOC Commitee’s At-Large Representative, Marie Haddad commented on Facebook that “SFU hiring white folk to EDI positions and allowing them to govern and make decisions on ‘behalf’ of BIPOC and [m]arginalized folks [is problematic because] many can’t even embody what it means to be BIPOC/[m]arginalized.” The comment was made in response to the recent appointment of FCAT dean Carman Neustaedter. SFSS VP University Relations Gabe Liosis added that the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) had discussed these issues with SFU. 

In an email statement to The Peak, SFSS At-Large Representative Balqees Jama noted that 

“the neglect of Black, Indigenous & [p]eople of [c]olour (BIPOC) and other marginalized groups at SFU is a direct result of the university excluding these groups from initial policy creation and implementation.” She added, “The harm from lack of BIPOC involvement in SFU’s policy creation, implementation, and teaching in academia is severely felt by racialized students.” 

Citing the 2020 SFU Diversity Meter report, Jama noted that there is currently no Black or Indigenous senior leadership at SFU.

Catherine Stoddard, executive director in the Office of the Vice-President Academic, told The Peak in an email statement, “We work in every search to ensure our candidate pool is as diverse as possible.”

Stoddard explained SFU policy mandates that a search committee meets “with a diversity and inclusion specialist who provides information on EDI considerations and how to mitigate bias through the search process.”

According to Stoddard, SFU “encourages applications from all qualified individuals including women, persons with disabilities, visible minorities, Indigenous Peoples, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

Jama noted that in leadership roles which advocate for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour, “lived experience is so important.” 

While Jama is glad to hear about SFU’s commitment to equity, she said “it is empty without creating tangible, equitable structures at the university. Until then, SFU still causes harm to marginalized faculty, staff, and students.

“I feel frustrated by the institutional stalling and gaslighting, especially of issues relating to Black students that the university constantly ignores. However, I also feel hopeful that we can mobilize and work together with the university for meaningful structural change,” says Jama. 

She further suggested that the SFU VP Equity role create a “broad anti-oppression strategy at the university that includes working with and empowering marginalized students.” Jama noted that BIPOC students had been advocating for that role, but were subsequently excluded from the development process.

According to Jama, “SFU needs to establish some tangible structural supports for marginalized students” such as “a system for accessible course scheduling and health-focused grading systems,” replacing police presence on campus with increased mental health supports and deescalation techniques, hiring more Black faculty, and increasing consultation with Indigenous students.

The SFSS has communicated these recommendations to SFU over the past year. However, Jama explained that they are frequently met with institutional stalling or deflection that “always come at marginalized communities’ expense.”

As co-chair of the SFSS BIPOC Committee on SFU Anti-Racism Efforts, Jama has also worked with fellow co-chair Matthew Provost to create a more extensive list of recommendations on how SFU can implement anti-racism policies.