Written by: Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate
The Rosemary Brown Award for Women Committee, SFU Public Square, and the department of gender, sexuality and women’s studies (GSWS) held their 17ᵗʰ Rosemary Brown Memorial Symposium on Women & Social Justice on May 6, 2021.
The annual award night recognizes those actively involved in social justice initiatives.
Dr. Tiffany Muller Myrdahl, GSWS and urban studies professor, presented the undergraduate award in Social Justice to GSWS student Anya Sass. Based in Cape Town, Sass worked on the Adonis Musati Project, which supports refugees and migrants through various initiatives including counselling and workshops.
“Social justice is more than building equity,” said Sass. “It’s about actively dismantling ideas and structures that are oppressive or exclusionary and rebuilding them to better reflect the diversity of experiences and identities within communities.”
Reflecting on her volunteer work with refugees in South Africa, Sass highlighted the importance of local organizations’ grassroots initiatives that supplement government support for refugees.
On behalf of the Rosemary Brown Award for Women Committee, Patsy George presented the award for women to Dr. June Francis, a Beedie School of Business associate professor. Dr. Francis is the co-founder of the Co-Laboratorio Project and the director of SFU’s Institute for Diaspora Research and Engagement.
Driven by her upbringing in Jamaica, Dr. Francis described the hope that accompanied Jamaica’s independence from England but also recognized the role colonization continues to play.
“The same logic that colonized the world is the same logic that’s creating this inequity, and it’s the same logic that we need to dismantle if we’re going to achieve freedom for women and girls and for people of colour worldwide,” said Dr. Francis.
According to Dr. Francis, neocolonialism continues to oppress former colonies. She acknowledged that colonization did not end with Jamaica’s independence, because trade rules and globalization connect Jamaica’s economy with England.
While describing colonization’s long-term consequences in Canada, she cited the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous peoples in the homeless population.
“You’ve got to address power. Who has power in the system? Who makes the decision?” Dr. Francis said.
When asked by an audience member about how to work towards equality, Dr. Francis urged the audience to acknowledge and study inequalities, prioritize and commit to social justice in all institutions — especially including often Eurocentric universities, and consciously restructure policies and institutions to implement reform.
To conclude the event, Honourable Melanie Mark, BC’s minister of advanced education, skills, and training, gave her keynote speech.
“We have to acknowledge where we come from in order to set our sights on what needs to change,” said Mark. The full event can be found on SFU GSWS’ YouTube.