Transform the SFU Experience, People of SFU

June Francis: Healing disconnect on campus

February 21, 2024

“If you ask me ‘What's our greatest accomplishment?’, it has been to try to create a sense of connection,” says June Francis.

A professor of marketing at the Beedie School of Business, Francis wears many hats at SFU. She serves as co-founder and co-chair of the SFU Black Caucus, director of the Institute for the Black and African Diaspora Research and Engagement and formerly served as special advisor to the president on anti-racism, in addition to a multitude of roles in the broader community.

"Historically, the perpetuation of colonial intentions has led to a feeling of fragmentation in the Black community,” says Francis. “Whether in the academy, at SFU or in (the displacement of) our communities, there has been a failure to create a community of belonging for us.”

Francis takes pride in the work the Black Caucus has done to create a space for the Black community at SFU to connect with one another. Established in 2020, the Black Caucus comprises of university faculty, staff, students and alumni who self-identify as Black and/or African, and works towards a mission of empowering and uplifting Black community members and their voices.

This past year, the Caucus expanded its membership, held their first elections and institutionalized their office. “With limited resources, this has been done through a lot of volunteers, a lot of people putting time into it,” says Francis. "The students and faculty have worked very hard to put in place systems to staff and fund initiatives in the long run, to institutionalize them, as well as respond to a number of things that come to us.”

One such program is the Black Graduation dinner, held in the summers of 2022 and 2023 to honour and celebrate the students and their families who have reached this important milestone.

“So many people came together to celebrate their accomplishments. It does choke me up, honestly, because it was the first time I saw Black students, supported by their parents and faculty, all form a community where people felt that they could be themselves,” says Francis. “They could celebrate their accomplishments among people who understood, without feeling the gaze of others. It's something that I'm really proud we've been able to do.”

However, she also acknowledges the work still to be done.

“If you look at the academy and the way universities are run, what you find are enormous gaps between aspirations for Black flourishing and the tangible things that need to happen to achieve that,” she says.

Francis describes a lack of resourcing for Black programs such as the Graduation Celebration, and a need for dedicated, formalized funding structures. Many initiatives require re-evaluation each year, and without a guarantee of being able to run programming in subsequent years, organizers’ ability to plan long-term initiatives and create meaningful change is limited.

In 2021, SFU signed onto the Scarborough Charter, in which Francis played a key role. The charter commits post-secondary institutions to redressing anti-Black racism and fostering Black inclusion; however, Francis emphasizes the necessity of moving beyond commitment into action.

She hopes to see consideration of the Scarborough Charter principles included in strategy and policy at every level of the university, from department curriculum to senate decisions. “We need to set goals and objectives that are clear, measurable and monitored.”

Francis also specializes in data and has been chair of British Columbia’s Anti-Racism Data Committee since its establishment in 2022. As SFU embarks on its own demographic and diversity data collection project, she reflects on the importance of data for informed decision-making and accountability.

“We collect data because we're trying to illuminate these gaps in equity,” says Francis. “We need to understand them well enough to be able to put programs in place and be more effective at filling these gaps.”

Francis hopes to build upon this work through her direction of the Institute for the Black and African Diaspora, which aims to be a pillar of Black flourishing, presence and connection at SFU.

“I want to focus on the institute in terms of its intellectual potential,” says Francis. “It has the capacity to bring students, faculty and staff together in an academic context.”

“If we're going to achieve flourishing, we need to address disconnect. There's a disconnect between Black pedagogy, Black research, Black student services, Black art, Black historical record,” says Francis. “We need to see research being done in a way that reflects our perspective, worldview and interest. We need to see in student experience and pedagogy that Black students are learning about who they are and decentering white eurocentric ideas.”

“The institute can connect us with community and other universities, and actually solve some of the problems we see with disconnect across the university.”

By healing this disconnect, the university can provide a sense of belonging for all. Francis’s vision is to open the door for people to be themselves authentically at SFU, even if their authentic self is not the status quo.

“What we're offering in the end is an opportunity,” says Francis. "Yes, we're addressing Black flourishing, but when you start to address our inequity, you create an opening for other marginalized groups. I have heard just as much of sense of appreciation for my work from people who don't look like me and it is in those moments that I realized how important it is that we share because it invites the kinds of communities we’re looking for.”

“We're creating opportunities for many people who are not feeling belonging and feeling included,” says Francis. “The fight is for that broad based change.”

In this Black History Month series, we share the stories of Black community members at SFU. For Black History Month 2024, SFU has adopted the theme “Building Connections for Black Flourishing”, based on themes from the Scarborough Charter. Read other stories, discover events and activities and learn more about Black History Month at SFU.