FASS News, Humanities, Community

Svend Robinson exemplifies community engagement during his tenure as the 2020–21 J. S. Woodsworth Resident Scholar

September 27, 2021

By Huyen Pham

Famed social-justice activist and former NDP MP Svend Robinson started his one-year term in September 2020 as J.S. Woodsworth Resident Scholar with exciting plans to engage with SFU faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Those plans included several community-outreach activities centred on social justice, community development and civic responsibility. Despite restrictions due to the global pandemic during the entirety of his tenure, Robinson displayed the same tenacity and resolve that earned him over twenty-five years as a federal MP (1979–2004) by remaining active both within SFU and beyond in the community, even if just virtually.

Robinson began his academic year as a discussant in Grand Chief Steward Phillip’s keynote on Indigenous resilience and persistence in the advancement of title and rights for the conference on “Indigenous Struggles and the Ideology of Development,” followed by a number of critical conversations as an engaged audience member at most of the Institute for the Humanities’ events. In May 2021, he cohosted, with Institute Director Samir Gandesha, The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould as the Grace MacInnis Visiting Scholar and was a respondent at her lecture on Indigenous rights and politics, asking the question why governments struggle to effect true reconciliation when urgent change is needed. In August, he cohosted with SFU President Joy Johnson the first LGBTQ2S+ virtual forum with an aim to strengthen inclusion, visibility and safety for the entire SFU community by implementing concrete action plans that will make a difference.

Along with his public-outreach activities, Robinson also taught a seminar in the Department of Humanities on his political life and a wide range of issues including the right to die with dignity, Indigenous rights, international human rights, reproductive rights and sexual freedom. Students were encouraged to actively participate in debates and discussions with several prominent guest speakers, including Seth Klein on the climate emergency, Stewart and Joan Phillip and Pam Palmater on Indigenous rights, Cuban Ambassador Josefina Vidal, and LGBT rights trailblazer Michelle Douglas. As one student said, “this was one of the most engaging HUM courses I have taken."

Robinson concluded his tenure with a pre-recorded interview with old friend and 2021 Thakore Visiting Scholar David Suzuki, which is set to go live on October 2. Though his term as Resident Scholar has come to an end, he will continue his affiliation with SFU as an Associate of the Institute.

Robinson has this to say about his time at SFU:

“What an incredible privilege and honour it has been to join SFU this past year as the J.S. Woodsworth Resident Scholar. While Covid has transformed the teacher-student dynamic, it has been great to be able to join such a dedicated, progressive team in the Department of Humanities and Institute for the Humanities. I have particularly enjoyed the experience of teaching my HUM 350 seminar during the summer semester, sharing my political journey with a diverse group of engaged, bright students. I will always deeply value this year at SFU, the community I had the honour of representing as federal MP for over twenty-five years, and look forward to continuing my relationship with SFU in the future, including commemorating the 100th anniversary of J.S. Woodsworth's first election to Parliament in December 1921.”