SFU too often takes credit for achievements by progressive student movements

SFU plays progressive only once the real progressives have forced the school into action

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Professionally-dressed person with an SFU logo for a head standing in front of a chess board facing the reader. Chess board extends towards the reader, half off the page. 3 small chess pieces of protestors holding signs reading
Stop with the passive aggression, SFU. Credits: Amy Guo / The Peak

By: Luke Faulks, Opinions Editor

Here’s something that never fails to be a crowd-pleaser: powerful institutions claiming to be progressive after being shamed into progressive action. And what’s even better? When that same institution fakes good cheer when thanking the activists that held its feet to the fire. Many thanks for double-dipping on all that, SFU. 

Last year, SFU350 got the school to fully divest itself of investments into planet-warming, emissions-intensive industries. That’s great! After eight years of protesting, and after having been threatened for an inoffensive mural on Convocation Mall, a student-advocated policy change was underway. 

Except you wouldn’t know it from the school’s self-congratulatory press release. The divestment announcement overconfidently talked up the school’s “strong record of increasing commitment since 2014” an assertion that, if true, would have negated the need for SFU350’s ultimately successful divestment movement. More to the point, the release then proceeded to bury the group responsible for applying progressive pressure by mentioning SFU350 at the bottom of the page, towards the end of a lengthy list of organizations. Plus, I kid you not, “SFU350” is styled incorrectly. And of course, this isn’t a one-off. 

Last year, SFU’s Senate approved the hiring of 15 Black tenured professors in a huge step forward for representation on campus. In quotes to The Peak and CBC, SFU president Joy Johnson celebrated the Senate’s approval of the motion. When speaking to The Peak, she said, “The motion approved by the Senate is an important step forward as we work to ensure Black faculty, staff, and students feel included.” But, again, the movement is the result of tireless work toiling on the part of Black folks to get the motion across. 

And then when groups are explicitly thanked, it either reduces the work of the group, or it’s mentioned in passing. Listen to this one when SFU announced a plan for responsible investment:

“The university would like to acknowledge and thank these individuals, student groups, and SFU350, for advocating for responsible investment and divestment over the past eight years.” 

Advocating against your program. Advocating for better than what you gave them. And yes, “Eight years.” This after they felt they had to go on a hunger strike because you didn’t listen to them. “Eight years.” It’s an admonition unto itself. Why celebrate your policy shift when your own press release slights the group that demanded the shift had to fight for nearly a decade to get it passed? 

Listen up, school. We all feel bad when we’re called out on bad behavior. But if you don’t want to be made to feel crappy about your policy missteps, don’t wait so long that students have to spend years advocating for positive change. Just go ahead and do it yourself.