SFU350 paints mural at Convocation Mall to campaign for climate action

Artwork is part of ongoing campaign against SFU’s investment in fossil fuel

painting of earth surrounded by a thick rim of black, with drips of black at center bottom. Letters

By: Nancy La, News Editor

Editor’s Note: Previously, this article indicated that vice presidents Pochurko and O’Neil endorsed SFU350’s motion at the Board of Governor’s meeting. Pochurko and O’Neil have only endorsed SFU350’s presentation of their motion, and not the motion itself. Changes have been made to reflect this. 

Editor’s Note: This piece was updated on September 25, 2021 to include new information about SFU350 facing potential “disciplinary proceedings” from SFU administration.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and SFU350 is betting on that with their new mural installation at Convocation Mall. The group painted the mural on September 12, 2021 to raise awareness of their ongoing campaign against SFU’s fossil fuel investments, among other demands. The Peak was present for the painting of the mural, and spoke to SFU350 executives at the event.

Gurleen Aujla, outreach lead of SFU350, explained the rationale behind the event. “This is a no-cost, low-barrier access to our campaign, which will hopefully help us engage with as many students as we can in the SFU community,” she said.

The mural was designed and painted by Jess Stanley, a Vancouver-based illustrator and artist. She works with climate groups across the lower mainland for both art builds and direct actions. Stanley is also in charge of designing SFU350’s stickers and buttons.

SFU350 published an open letter in August 2021 calling for SFU to declare a climate emergency. The letter also campaigns for SFU to divest its investment portfolio from “fossil fuel extraction, processing, and transportation companies,” educate students on the climate crisis, and engage students on “climate justice topics.”

“We have had a number of conversations with the SFSS and SFU350 regarding the mural, as it has been placed on university property, which is not permitted,” Rumanna Khan Hemani, vice provost, students and international, student services, said to The Peak in an email statement. “The university is currently assessing the best way to remove the mural to prevent permanent damage to the area.”

“SFU350 will continue pushing for this mural to remain in place until the 28th of September,” Aujla said in an email to The Peak. “This mural was put in place because we’ve been silenced for years.” She added they have been advocating for divestment for over seven years.

SFU350 plans to present their open letter at the September 28 Board of Governors meeting. According to Abigail Herd, co-president of SFU350, vice president finance Martin Pochurko and vice president research and international, Dugan O’Neil, have endorsed a presentation of the letter at the meeting. Board of Governors undergraduate representative Serena Bains will put forward the motion on behalf of SFU350.

“They did express the fact they don’t necessarily agree with all the demands we provided in our letter. While they didn’t say which ones, we know in the past they haven’t agreed with divesting from fossil fuel,” Herd said.

SFU implemented its own sustainability plan in Spring 2020. The plan includes shifting “50% of the fossil-fuel based energy used by SFU to renewables by 2025”, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 2007 by 2025, among other goals.

WeiChun Kua, SFU350’s executive member, said that while SFU’s sustainability plan has “some good policies,” it is still missing some actions. The plan “does not meet the 1.5℃ [pathway] the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sets up.

“We need SFU to take immediate action in enacting systemic change to address the root cause of the climate crisis,” Kua added this points to capitalism and colonialism.

As of September 24, 2021, the mural is still present at Convocation Mall. 

On September 24, The Peak received news from the SFSS Executive Committee that there were attempts from SFU’s Student Conduct Office (Office of Students Rights and Responsibilities) to issue letters of “disciplinary proceedings” for those involved in the creation of the mural. 

The Peak will be providing continued coverage of this developing story.

SFU350 urges students, staff, and faculty to sign their Climate Emergency Open Letter