- President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award
Statement on SFU's Athletics Team Name Change
This summer, SFU announced the decision to retire the former name of our varsity athletics teams. A report was commissioned, and dozens of interviews with and comments from community members informed the final decision. If you have not yet read the report, I urge you to take the time to do so. The voices of our student-athletes, students, faculty, staff and alumni are important to hear on this issue.
Though I was not president at the time this decision was taken, I am in strong support of the change. As Canada’s only NCAA team, we compete in the United States, where the name Clan is impossible to separate from the Ku Klux Klan. However, these troubling histories aren’t confined to the US; the KKK and anti-Black racism exist here in Canada. We must stand up against anti-Black racism at all levels—individual, institutional, and systemic—and stand with and for our Black students, colleagues and friends at every opportunity.
Many from our community actively shared their voices in support of the name change. I acknowledge and thank you all for your commitment to a better SFU. But I want to pause and reflect—and ask our community to take a moment to reflect—on the work of Black student-athletes, students, faculty and staff in advancing this conversation to its rightful conclusion. I can appreciate this work takes on a very different meaning when it is about advocating for one’s own safety and rights. I understand that raising concerns and sharing personal experiences of racism are painful for Black students, faculty and staff and this is not a burden they should bear. I also want to acknowledge the activism of Black students, faculty and staff that took place over the years leading up to this decision.
SFU needs to do more for Black community members. Here are a couple of commitments we have made to students, and we know we need to do more:
- Providing culturally appropriate safe mental health supports to Black students. Black students can now request to work with Black mental health providers via MySSP. Health & Counselling Services is working with Black counsellors in the community for specific programming and to improve the capacity of Health & Counselling Services staff to support Black students.
- Student Services and Health & Counselling have committed to reviewing and updating systems and procedures that limit mental health accessibility for Black students at SFU.
Recently I have had a number of conversations with equity-deserving student groups about their experiences. I am honoured by the care and honesty of these conversations. I am listening, I am learning and I am here to find ways to move the burden of change to the institution, not on those impacted. Through these conversations I have had time to reflect on where I need to improve and how we can move our institution forward, and I am sharing this learning with my colleagues who are taking action. I am so grateful to those who have shared their time and experience with me.
Beginning with this post, I will be sharing some of my reflections and learnings through these conversations. I will also open this space to others to share their own thoughts. Growth requires personal awareness and in this case specifically, the raising of critical consciousness. It is my hope that we can grow together as a community whose truest ambition is support and care for one another.