By: Karissa Ketter, News Writer
A group of SFU students from SFU350, along with supporters, painted a mural at the Burnaby Campus in Convocation Mall on September 12, 2021. The mural has now been removed from the space by SFU.
SFU vice-provost students and international Rummana Khan Hemani sent a letter on September 23, 2021 to those involved in the organization and creation of the mural, notifying them that disciplinary action for those involved will be pursued. The letter noted that SFU is ”disappointed that student members of SFU350 took this action and defaced our premises.”
Marie Haddad, SFSS vice-president equity and sustainability, told The Peak a few days after they received the letter, that president Joy Johnson had a discussion with SFSS president Gabe Liosis and dropped the student conduct proceedings.
The Peak reached out to SFU350 but did not receive a response by the publication deadline due to technical errors.
Haddad said SFU350 has been developing their campaign for eight months to craft a list of demands for the university. Among those demands are divesting from fossil fuels and declaring a state of climate emergency. The climate justice mural was painted to bring awareness to SFU350’s campaign.
After the mural was painted, members of the SFSS and SFU met with Hemani to discuss their activism. Haddad reported the meeting went well and “it seemed like there was a way forward” to work with SFU. Haddad said the SFSS offered to pay for any potential damages that may be caused in the process, such as the paint staining the floor in Convocation Mall. They also noted the SFSS and SFU350 would remove the mural, at no cost to the university, on September 28, 2021.
Their second meeting with administration was on September 23, 2021. “We got the notification that we needed a second meeting. And probably a minute before that meeting, we received that letter from admin [where] they told us they were ready to go forward with Student Conduct proceedings, which is terrifying,” said Haddad.
The letter to the SFSS and SFU350 cited a Student Conduct Policy that restricts defacing of property. Haddad noted the policy also states, “Nothing in this policy shall be interpreted to prohibit peaceful assemblies or demonstrations.”
“We knew, we foresaw this being weaponized specifically against peaceful protests [ . . . ] It was really inappropriate and dangerous for the university to be weaponizing a policy like this against students who want change,” said Haddad.
The SFSS released a statement after receiving the letter from SFU administration which read, “Climate justice murals such as the one in Convocation Mall are wonderful cultural and protest demonstration methods that raise awareness about climate justice, the climate crisis, and in this case the conversation about divestment in fossil fuels.”
A public statement from SFU, released on September 27, 2021, states, “We differ in interpretation of peaceful protest as it applies to university property. Due to these differing interpretations, student misconduct will not be pursued. After discussion, we have agreed that the mural will stay in place until the conclusion of the Board of Governors meeting. This provides time for the student group to ensure their voices and message have been heard.”
As per the original agreement with SFU350, the mural’s removal began on September 28, 2021 after the Board of Governors meeting. “The mural served a purpose bigger than we assumed would come forward: the community was brought together,” said Haddad.
“We have also agreed that further discussion will be had regarding the importance of protecting the right to protest at SFU,” said the statement from SFU.
SFU350’s campaign is ongoing. The list of demands outlined in their Climate Emergency Declaration Letter was intended to be discussed at the Board of Governors meeting on September 28, 2021 but Haddad reported their motion was delayed by the Board of Governors. They plan to discuss it again at the next board meeting in October.
Haddad noted the Board of Governors put forward their own motion which was passed at the September meeting. “Ultimately, the motion that they brought forward was to say that they would support a climate emergency, but not that they would declare it [ . . . ] For the university to push that aside and say that a commitment is not even needed and more research is needed is unfortunate, because the science and the evidence is [clear],” said Haddad.
At the time of publication the mural was in the process of being removed. Haddad noted, at this point, they had not received news of damage to Convocation Mall.