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B.C. Human Rights Commissioner approves SFU’s plan to hire Black faculty and staff
SFU’s effort to build a more inclusive and diverse community has passed a key milestone.
Last month, the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner approved two Special Program applications, allowing the university to conduct limited and preferential hiring of at least 15 tenure-track Black faculty as well as 15 Black staff members.
“This is a big deal,” says Dr. June Francis, co-founder of SFU’s Black Caucus and the former special adviser to the president on anti-racism. “It is an acknowledgement that in an institution that has prioritized Euro-centric ideas, epistemologies, ways of knowing and scholarship, we’re finally finding a way to redress the obstacles that have existed for Black empowering and therefore for Black flourishing at SFU.”
SFU sought and received approval from the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner for a Special Program designation. While this formal designation isn’t needed to support a special program, under section 42 (3) of the B.C. Human Rights Code, the commissioner may approve special programs to ameliorate conditions for disadvantaged individuals or groups who are disadvantaged because of Indigenous identity, race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression that have been shown to be disadvantaged.
Preferential, limited or targeted hiring is also supported under the federal Employment Equity Act and SFU’s equity commitments as outlined by Universities Canada’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion principles and SFU's Equity Compass.
The approval of the special program is one of the many steps that needs to be taken for SFU to live up to the aspirations of the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism, which SFU signed in 2021, Francis adds.
“This program, by being very clear in its intent, allows us to start to address the real inequities that students and faculty face when we have a university that doesn’t represent the full scope of scholarship and ways of teaching of people of African descent. Our histories aren’t there, our contributions aren’t there, our ways of thinking get excluded – this is a chance to redress that wrong.”
The Special Program application resulted from a September 2021, SFU Senate motion approval to hire 15 Black faculty across the university’s faculties and disciplines. The motion was the direct result of student leadership, vision and advocacy.
“It is certainly great news, but it is disappointing that it has taken this long to be implemented,” says Osob Mohamed, a former Simon Fraser Student Society president who was one of the co-authors of the Senate motion. “I hope this leads to SFU implementing more initiatives to improve Black community representation and empowerment on campus.”
The Senate motion was brought forward by former SFSS president Gabe Liosis and was championed by co-organizers Osob Mohamed, Balqees Jama, Marie Haddad and Giovanni HoSang. It was unanimously endorsed by the SFSS council and supported by several campus groups including SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry, African Students Association, the Somali Students Association and the SFU Black Caucus.
“I am thankful that Black community pressure has led to this,” Mohamed adds. “I am also hopeful that this step will spur SFU on to act quickly in getting the hiring started, and to implement the other Black racial equity motions passed or proposed at Senate in 2021.
“There is still great demand for Black student financial supports, a Black student centre initiative and a Black studies program. With the university’s stated commitments to diversity and equity, this work is necessary especially in the current environment of attacks against Black-focused and equity initiatives at large.”
SFU’s Special Programs application to the B.C. Human Rights Commissioner was supported by community members including Francis, in her role as co-founder of SFU’s Black Caucus and former adviser to the president of SFU on anti-Black racism and Chris Lewis, SFU’s director of Indigenous initiatives. Employee groups also consulted with their membership and sent solidarity letters supporting the application, including letters from Jill Sutherland, president of the SFU Administrative & Professional Staff Association; Dr. Ouldooz Baghban Karimi, president of the Academic Women board; and Dr. Kumari Beck, president of the SFU Faculty Association.
“We acknowledge the harm and trauma that Black faculty and staff have faced due to the systemic and institutional racism that has existed at SFU,” says Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, SFU’s vice-president, people, equity and inclusion.
While awaiting the commissioner’s decision, SFU’s Equity Office began working on recruitment and retention guidelines with the understanding that a comprehensive onboarding and retention program would better support new faculty and staff hired as part of the Special Program. A second application for Indigenous staff hiring is currently being processed and SFU hopes to have an update from the Commissioner on that application soon.
“There is more to be done,” says Gilpin-Jackson. “This designation is one of many actions SFU is taking to remove barriers to employment access and extend opportunities to qualified candidates from equity-deserving groups who are historically and currently underrepresented. Together with the objectives outlined in our newly released Equity Compass, SFU’s first equity, diversity and inclusion strategic plan, the approval of the special program application marks incredible progress toward fulfilling our commitments under the Scarborough Charter and building a more inclusive and diverse community for SFU.”
In 2021, SFU was among almost 50 post-secondary institutions that signed the Scarborough Charter, pledging to fight anti-Black racism and encourage Black inclusion in higher education in Canada. Read more about this historic charter, here.
Learn more about the special program designation, click here.