by Balqees Jama, SFU Student
Editors note: The author is president of SOCA and is currently advocating for this referendum.
The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) 2022 Executive Elections are currently underway and among the five referenda questions, two are about establishing long-term financial supports for constituency groups that support Black, Indigenous, and disabled students on campus. A referendum is a vote by students towards a specific question, often to support a cause.
These groups consist of Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA), the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Student Association (FNMISA — formerly FNSA), and the Disability and Neurodiversity Alliance (DNA). This student referendum would establish two new fees that would enable them to better support their membership: the SOCA Black Student Support Fund and DNA Disabled and Neurodivergent Student Support Fund. Additionally, there would be an increase to the already established First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Student Association Fund fee that was created in 2002 by referendum. These fees would total $3.50 per full-time undergraduate student and $1.75 per part-time undergraduate student for each semester.
The pool for funding is yet to be established, and would be based on student enrollment.
How will these fees help us help our communities?
There are some specific culturally relevant resources and activities that these groups do now that would be bolstered by the establishment of these fee levies.
This includes cultural nights and festivals, workshops for people to learn either within or outside the community, and social gatherings, among others.
For example, at SOCA, we host the Black History Month panel discussions, create and support other Black History events on campus, and organize the Annual Black and African Diaspora Cultural Night or Formal Dinners. These are hosted to create a safe environment for the varied Black communities to come show up and #Slay royally.
The FNMISA holds a Term Dinner which is an opportunity for the community to join together, share in a meal, and end the semester in a nice way.
This would include a myriad of advocacy initiatives to support marginalized constituents. For instance, SOCA has launched many campaigns pushing SFU to ensure there is increased Black racial equity on campus including:
- Increasing the number of Black faculty on campus
- A specific Health and Counselling Black Student Support and Healing Space
- The signing of the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education
- The creation of an SFU Black Student Center
All of these campaigns have tremendous long-term impacts for Black communities on campus, setting up systemic and permanent structures to support Black community success.
Or, we could look at the FNMISA’s “Let Us Speak” campaign that highlighted the need for the FNMISA and Indigenous students to be properly included and consulted for the creation of the First Peoples Gathering House. There has also been advocating for increased safe spaces for Indigenous students via No Cops on Campus on all three campuses.
Lastly, DNA has had many advocacy wins:
- Fighting to ensure consultations with disabled students to meet diverse needs, when SFU implemented bans on single-use plastic
- Successfully advocating for Health and Counselling Services (HCS) to provide non-phone options to accessing support
- Working with the SFSS Accessibility Committee to pass the SFSS Accessibility Policy
- Advising CAL and HCS in the creation of dedicated counselling for disabled undergrads and grads
DNA is currently garnering widespread media attention with their most recent statement on the Return to Campus, which advocates for hybrid learning and centring disabled and immunocompromised SFU community members in COVID-19 policy.
Resources and Programming
This fee will aid continuous programming such as peer mentorship and support for the community, faculty and staff; bursary contributions; educational, equity, diversity, and inclusion, and decolonizing workshops and seminars. Along with sharing resources, this allows students to know how to access support on campus from a specific equity lens serving these unique communities.
Operations and governance
This is needed to ensure the staff supports are adequately provided and that SOCA, FNSA, and DNA continue to be run with direction by Indigenous, Black, and disabled members of the groups. These include staff support training, governance training, collaboration with community groups on campus relations, and physical office supplies and furniture for the spaces to be continuously relevant.
These fees will help provide long-term sustainable support for equity-seeking constituency groups to continue serving students. This fee levy is to be designated by SFSS as an opt-out fee, so if students are not able to afford the $3.50 fee, students could opt out of paying. However, due to the collective efforts of students coming together, a lot of support would be given to serve these equity communities, led by these communities.
Your Support Matters!
Every student can take part in supporting communities on campus by supporting the work that these groups do. Just as our predecessors had laid the groundwork for community support, we can ensure future students can come to campus, have these spaces, and call SFU home.
In total, 43 student groups, 13 SFSS candidates, and 2 SFSS parties have endorsed the campaign. This shows that student groups and their leaderships are ready and willing to support and care for, and empower communities to continue to thrive. Now we implore all students to support these groups as these referenda questions go forward.
What to do from here?
1) Students can vote! There will be a link to vote in SFU Mail February 15–17
2) Students can message others to vote
You can find more information about the SFSS referenda here: https://sfss.ca/elections/referenda/