Photography: © 2021 Michael Elkan

Healthy Campus Community Champion

Build SFU Project’s Student Union Building Awarded as a 2021 Healthy Campus Community Champion

March 31, 2022

By Samar Gill & Daksha Jadhav

The Build SFU Project is being recognized for its outstanding contributions to SFU student health and well-being through the completion of the Student Union Building (SUB) and is a 2021 recipient of the Champions for a Healthy Campus Community award.

Creating a Designated Space for Student Well-being

Serving as a central hub for the SFU community on the Burnaby campus, the SUB welcomes undergraduate and graduate students to a welcoming and beautiful space designed with student well-being in mind. Corbett Gildersleve, Acting President of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) describes, “What makes [the SUB] unique is that it’s really strongly designed to be a social hub and community hub.” Well-being was one of the key principles emphasized in the design of the SUB, and that can be clearly seen through the many ways students are using and connecting in this space. Through its unique considerations of student needs, the SUB offers a variety of spaces from leisure spaces, including a dance studio, gaming lounge, community kitchen, nap room, and multipurpose ballroom, to bookable meeting rooms, and SFSS offices. With designated spaces for equity-deserving groups on campus, including the First Nations, Métis, & Inuit Student Association (FNSA), Out On Campus (OOC), Women’s Centre, SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA), and the first-ever office for the Disability and Neurodiversity Alliance (DNA), the SUB prioritizes inclusion and celebrates the diversity of students on campus. 

Corbett emphasizes the connection to well-being with an example of having spaces that support students’ spiritual and cultural practices and says, “Having a [shared space] where students can get cultural foods and have cultural activities and celebrate holidays may not have been possible in the past, and all [that] has a strong impact on health and wellbeing for students.” By facilitating social connection through gathering spaces and services, bringing nature closer to students through the biophilic design, and addressing needs as basic as offering outlets for charging devices, the SUB exemplifies the positive impacts that physical spaces can have on students’ well-being.

The Journey to Establishing the Student Union Building

Guided by collaborative principles, the SUB was designed through continuous and thoughtful community engagement and consultation. The Build SFU project was initiated by the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) in 2012 to improve facilities and shared spaces for students. Extensive consultations with the SFU community resulted in thousands of students contributing to the vision for the SUB. The completion of the Build SFU project and the SUB serves as a prominent example of a successful collaboration between SFU as an institution and the students represented by SFSS. This student-led initiative overcame significant hurdles through continuous engagement with the community. Speaking about the process, Corbett says, “The fact that this project did happen is really a testament to longer-term vision and commitment over multiple years. [It highlights] the importance of long-term visioning, commitment, perseverance, and research that need to get the projects done. I think it’s awesome that we were able to do this at SFU and SFSS.”

Advice on Contributing to a Healthy Campus Community  

Corbett believes that the key factors for the successful completion of the Build SFU Project included patience, a strong vision and effective collaboration and shares, “Complex and long-term projects could be challenging, especially in environments where student leadership changes over every year. So, you can have big shifts in terms of what gets on worked on, what doesn’t, and what gets prioritized”.  Starting early and acting on the valuable feedback is crucial to the success of any project, particularly for the Build SFU Project, and the use of an intersectional and participatory process ensured that students’ health and well-being remained a top priority. 

The Build SFU Project is a demonstration of the pay-it-forward attitude among students as they advocated for a space they didn’t necessarily benefit from themselves. Corbett elaborates, “I think the same thing is true with health and wellness. You, ideally, want to be solving present-day issues for health and wellness so that future generations and future students [will have] less problems to solve.”