Black excellence at SFU

Featuring some of SFU’s past and present students and faculty this Black History Month

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by Tamanna T., Staff Writer and Marco Ovies, Features Editor

Dr. David Chariandy 

Courtesy of SFU

One of the most accomplished professors at SFU is Dr. David Chariandy. A professor who teaches creative writing and literature, Chariandy is also a well-known writer for his fiction and non-fiction works. His first novel, Soucouyant, was nominated for over 11 literary awards. Additionally, he won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for his second novel Brother, which deals with themes of masculinity, race, and identity. 

Both in and out of the classroom, Chariandy aims to highlight Black authors. With the help of Student of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA), he organized an event last December which platformed writers such as Dionne Brand, Christina Sharpe, and Canisia Lubrin. In the classroom, Dr. Chariandy told The Peak he teaches Black Canadian literature, for the “rich, complex, and historically deep body of texts” they offer.

 

Dr. June Francis

portrait of Dr. June Francis
PHOTO: Waltraud Greif

Dr. June Francis is an associate professor in the Beedie School of Business and teaches marketing. In an interview with The Peak, Francis explained, “My work at SFU has always been about creating spaces of flourishing, particularly for those most often disadvantaged by our structures, policies, and practices. As a Black professor I am painfully aware of the ways in which some racial groups are erased from research, teaching, and near absent from decision-making roles.”

Francis is also the co-founder of The Co-laboratorio, a project which works to encourage collaboration between different sectors and create “resilient solutions” with policymakers and local governments. Additionally, she is the director of the Institute for Diaspora Research and Engagement at SFU. Francis’ involvement doesn’t stop there. She was also a key member in the motion of SFU hiring more Black faculty. Her myriad list of accomplishments includes being Chair of the board of Hogan’s Alley Society, which works towards the advancement of people of African descent.

Her research focuses on “amplifying the perspective of those whose voices are usually at the periphery, particularly those who are Black, Indigenous, and racialized.” 

 

Dr. Yabome Gilpin-Jackson

Photo courtesy of SFU

Dr. Yabome Gilpin-Jackson is a scholar and organizational developer who works towards equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). She was recently named SFU’s first vice-president, people, equity, and inclusion and has worked in leadership roles at many organizations including Fraser Health

Gilpin-Jackson founded the Supporting Learning and Development Consulting Inc, an organization focused on helping businesses develop processes for systemic and social change. She has received many prestigious awards, including the Harry Jerome Professional Excellence Award in Canada. A published author, Gilpin-Jackson has written numerous books and articles on issues of Black identity, inclusivity and leadership like Transformation after Trauma: The Power of Resonance and Identities

In an interview with ROOM Magazine, she said, “What my work is centred around is this passion for human development. No matter where we are, we can all develop further, and there’s always possibility for our thinking and our persons to expand. That expansion, for me, is about furthering our individual and collective potential as humanity, and I’m super passionate about that.”

 

Balqees Jama

Courtesy of Simon Fraser Student Society

Balqees Jama is the president of SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA) and actively promotes inclusiveness and equality of international and Black students of SFU. 

Black and Indigenous people are the backbone of community care and advocacy at SFU. We’ve achieved historic milestones, many of which benefit the wider community,” she said in an interview with The Peak. 

Currently pursuing a degree in international studies, Jama has previously served as a member of the Board of Directors in Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) as well as the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group. Jama has had an important hand in SFSS’ fight for inclusivity. Among other initiatives, she penned and brought forward the motion of hiring more Black faculty at SFU. “Black people are not activists by choice; it’s a matter of survival. It’s hard to put yourself out there, as being Black and vocal often means having a target on your back. However, I’m learning the importance of organizing in Black love and joy. So in 2022, that’s exactly what I’m doing!”

 

 

Eternity Martis 

PHOTO: Corey Misquita

Eternity Martis is SFU’s current Non-Fiction Writer in Residence. Hailing from Toronto, Martis is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in multiple magazines and newspapers, including Vice, CBC, and Huffington Post. She is also a critically acclaimed author for her bestselling memoir — They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up

In an interview with Ryerson University about They Said This Would Be Fun, Martis said, “I don’t think that race gets talked about enough — it’s quickly dismissed as ‘not everything is about race’ or ‘talking about race is divisive.’ The fact that systemically, people of colour continue to be precariously employed, have poor health profiles, are victims of state violence, among many other issues, means that everything is about race — we just don’t want to admit it, or perhaps we don’t even see how. Writing this book, I didn’t want to sound like a broken record, what I wanted to show was the ways that race permeates every institution around us — university, police, media, even our own families.”

 

Osob Mohamed 

PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

Osob Mohamed, a recent graduate from the Faculty of Health and Sciences Bachelor program, is an important part of the SFU community. She was the SFSS president amidst the pandemic, from 2020–21 and worked diligently towards developing SFSS’ Issues Policy on reproductive rights. She had an integral role in helping students navigate the first year of the pandemic, prioritizing student mental health when anxiety and uncertainty were at their highest. During her time with the SFSS, Mohamed accomplished many feats like leading the charge on the elective grading scheme and supporting the marginalized communities

In an interview with The Peak, Mohamed said through her experience on the SFSS, she’s had the chance to “improve the student quality of life at SFU academically, financially, and health-wise.” 

Currently, Mohamed is “an alumni member of the SFU Black Caucus, and is working as a consultant to the university in the creation of a Black Student Centre.” She envisions this to be “a space for Black students to gather, receive tailored support, enjoy events and programming, and enjoy a space just for them!”

 

Juliane Okot Bitek

Photo courtesy of Seasmin Taylor

An Acholi poet, Juliane Okot Bitek was the 2020–21 Ellen and Warren Tallman Writer in Residence with SFU’s Department of English. Her book titled 100 Days dissects the effect of the Rwandan genocide on memory. It was nominated for multiple awards and won the INDIEFAB Book of the Year award for poetry in 2017. 

In an interview with PRISM international on 100 Days, Bitek said “As a Canadian, Ugandan, and Kenyan-born person, I cannot honestly draw political borders around where my responsibilities lie. Others can write about what they will but I must write about issues that affect all my ways of being, all of them.”

Bitek’s other poems like “Migration: Salt Stories” and “Gauntlet” were nominated and shortlisted for various awards, and more of her works have been widely popular online and have been anthologized in Love Me True. She has also held the title of the Poetry Ambassador of Vancouver.

 

Tricia-Kay Williams

PHOTO: Metamorphosis Counseling

Tricia-Kay Williams is a clinical counsellor working with SFU’s Health and Counselling. Her expertise lies in trauma, relational issues, anxiety, and career issues. She has previously worked as a residential youth worker and as a social service worker. 

Williams is an advocate for anti-racism which directly affects Black communities and is working actively with organizations to adopt an anti-racist approach in their policies. She has her own counselling practice, Metamorphosis Counselling. She also runs a YouTube channel, Meta Transitions, to promote growth in many areas such as career, mental health, and physical wellness.