People in profile

People of SFU: Meet Kristen Woo, director of the Human Rights Office

December 09, 2021

Kristen Woo knew that she wanted to be a lawyer in the fifth grade.

“We had gone on a field trip to the courthouse, and I thought, this seems great! I’ll do that,” she recalls.

Woo went on to fulfill her childhood dream by studying business in her undergrad, then going straight to law school. Before she became the director of SFU’s Human Rights Office, Woo was practicing employment and human rights law (among other areas) at Fasken, one of the largest law firms in Canada.

“I love being a lawyer,” she says. “I’m very passionate about helping people understand their rights and responsibilities. But I decided to come to SFU because I wanted to be part of a community.

“Before, I might advise a client and never get to hear the outcome of my advice,” she explains. “Here, I have the opportunity to make a difference—I know the advice I give has a very real impact on the people around me.”

SFU’s Human Rights Office (HRO) exists to provide confidential support and advice to members of the SFU community on issues related to human rights, including discrimination and harassment based on a protected ground (such as sexual or race-based harassment).

All of that might sound complicated, but ultimately, says Woo, she’s here to help build a safer campus environment for the whole SFU community.

“I think that most people know about the Human Rights Office as a place you can go if you want to make a human rights complaint,” she says.

“And that’s an important function of the office. But it’s not only that! You can reach out to me if you’re a manager looking for advice on conflict resolution, if you’re a faculty member who is concerned about discrimination while hiring, or if you’re a student wondering about the right to accommodation. I’m here to support the community around any and all issues related to human rights.”

During her first few months in the role, Woo has prioritized meeting with members of the community, getting to know the SFU landscape, and looking for ways to connect the office’s function with community priorities—including equity, diversity and inclusion.

“I enjoy talking to people and hearing about their experiences, because it helps me understand what areas the community is interested in and what areas we need more education on,” she says.

She adds, “There is an enormous appetite at this university for progress. I’m especially impressed by how engaged the students are—they’re not afraid to speak up and to advocate for change. The time for change is now, and the Human Rights Office has an important role to play in creating a more fair and equitable campus for everyone.”

Woo’s current priorities are rolling out a series of educational guides, planning workshops, advising the university on strategic issues and continuing to connect with members of the community. And beyond that, she has big plans for what the office will become.

“There is so much good that can be done using this office and the platform I’ve been given,” she says. “My vision is for the HRO to grow into something bigger and better and more valuable to the community —a top-of-mind, trusted resource for not only human rights, but also problem solving and conflict resolution.

“I want everyone who comes to SFU, whether as a student, faculty or staff member, to know that the HRO exists and that we’re here to serve you. If I can communicate that message, and if I can serve the community well, then I think I can say that I’ve done my job.”

You can learn more about SFU's Human Rights Office by visiting the HRO website.