This photograph of members of the African and Caribbean Heritage Students' Association (now SOCA) is among the records recently donated to SFU Archives.

Helping others find their history in the future: Preserving the records of the Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry at SFU

October 14, 2021
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By Melanie Hardbattle

While they are separately incorporated bodies from the University, campus organizations are an important part of the SFU community. The acquisition of the records they create into the Archives enriches our understanding of the broader university community and the activities of these groups that support and advocate for members of the community, bring students together, and provide avenues for participation in campaigns, causes and social events. However, issues such as staff or member turnover and changes in technology as more records are created in digital format only, put these important records at risk. 

SFU Archives is home to the archives of the Simon Fraser Student Society, SFU Women’s Centre, the Peak Publications Society, and Out on Campus, among others. By partnering with these organizations to steward these records, we ensure that the records are preserved in a secure and environmentally controlled location and are available for students, researchers and the organizations themselves long into the future. Recently, we also became the repository for the records of Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA). 

Initially called the Association for Students of African Descent (ASAD), SOCA was founded nearly thirty years ago, in 1994, with the mandate “to promote an environment in which to nurture and encourage academic excellence among its members...[and provide] a supportive base in which personal and community growth can be fostered.”

Giovanni Hosang during the Black Spaces Matter campaign in 2018 (Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry fonds)

As a past president, Giovanni Hosang initiated the donation of SOCA’s records to SFU Archives. “We saw the importance of keeping and recording our archives during our battle for student space for Black students on campus,” says Hosang. “We had to look back at past records through the Peak archives and some of the SFU archives to prove our historical presence and saw documentation that was valuable for the campaign, but the amount of information was nowhere near enough, and a lot of the history was missed. So we made the concerted effort to ensure these records are captured for future generations.” 

The records donated by SOCA include meeting minutes, correspondence, event records, promotional and outreach material such as posters and brochures, and records documenting the group’s various campaigns. Of note, all of the material donated was in digital format, including photographs, PDFs, and PowerPoint presentations. With the recent development of a tool called SFU MoveIt, users can transfer digital files remotely to the Archives, where they are preserved for the long term using Archivematica software. 

Fall 2010 newsletter (Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry fonds)

Hosang first found out about SFU Archives while researching early campus activism at SFU. He recalls that “…during the ‘Tuition Freeze Now’ movement that SOCA played a part in, there was an appetite to remember the role student activism played in the early formation of the University. It is quite shocking how many parallels there are between the conditions that existed then and the conditions that exist now, and it is so great for us to learn from the past. There is no way to have a sense of direction if you don't know where you are coming from… SFU Archives helps us with finding that direction and pushes us to help others find their history in the future. ”

Current President Balqees Jama says she was moved when looking back at the photographs from the 1990s and 2000s, in both the SOCA and Peak archives. In her opinion, “the items having most historical significance within the last couple of decades will be the powerful visual imagery of the many educational events that SOCA and Black community members regularly provide the wider community, highlighting Black academic, societal and political experience within the University and society at large…Researchers will also see the fight for space on campus against SOCA's displacement, and how much time, energy, and resources it took from Black students trying to simply exist and navigate university life. Our records show Black students' tireless efforts, compassion, community care and extension of solidarity to the wider SFU community.”

One of many event posters included in the SOCA fonds

When asked what he thinks researchers will learn about SOCA through the records, Hosang says he believes that they “will see the amount of presence the Black community at this institution has had through its [SOCA’s] presence, and SOCA through its various events…the self-created resources in absence of specific supports from the institution at the time, as well as the community advocacy that had to be done for the members. 

“SOCA was there in very considerable events such as the crisis in Darfur in the 2000s, the Haiti earthquake in the 2010s, to recent Black racial equity advances at SFU. SOCA has played a part raising the need for improved Black student experiences and has been now an instrumental part amongst other Black students and Black-led organizations (like SFSS clubs such as the African Students’ Association, the Nigerian Students Association and the Somali Students Association) in getting the University to acknowledge anti-Black racism and commit to creating resources and supports for Black students. There is a lot to dig into…”

In terms of the advice that Jama and Hosang would give to other student organizations, they suggest keeping files and folders organized in a central, accessible location, backing up them regularly in multiple locations -- and submitting them to the Archives on a regular basis. We look forward to seeing the SOCA archives grow in the years to come.

For more information about the Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry fonds or to learn more about donating records to SFU Archives, contact us at archives@sfu.ca.