Statement on finding empathy in an increasingly challenging world

November 09, 2023

I am devastated by the tragic events that have taken place in Israel and Gaza over the past month and by the intolerance and hate these events have invoked across the globe. 

SFU is a diverse and global community. Students, faculty and staff hold multiple identities and come from a variety of backgrounds. As such, world events—including the ongoing and escalating conflict in the Middle East—deeply affect members of our community who have personal and historical connections to affected regions. Over the past few weeks, I have heard from Muslim and Jewish community members alike who have expressed immense distress over the war in Israel and Gaza, grief over innocent lives lost due to this conflict and worries about antisemitic and Islamophobic sentiments on campus. I am deeply concerned for members of these communities, as well as the broader SFU community, during this time.

I want to state unequivocally that racism and hate of any kind have no place at SFU. Acts of hate, violence and discrimination are not and will never be acceptable on our campuses. In order to live out our vision and purpose as an institution of learning and inquiry, we must build a community of care. Every member of our community needs to feel welcome, safe, accepted and appreciated—to know that their ideas and identities are respected and valued. SFU is actively monitoring this situation, listening to feedback from affected groups and people and taking action when required to ensure community members’ safety and well being.

I also want to reiterate our commitment to academic freedom and critical thinking, alongside our other values, as core to the SFU community. Universities have always been a place for people to come together and have dialogue and open debate around difficult topics. These debates can be challenging and result in controversy. But in these polarized times, it is more important than ever that we hold space for these conversations to take place responsibly and respectfully, and that we defend and protect the rights of students, faculty and staff to express their views within the bounds of the law.

Over the past weeks, I have seen our community’s extraordinary capacity for kindness and empathy. People are coming together to support colleagues, classmates and friends who are in immense pain, and to stand against hate in all its forms. It has been remarkable to see. We must continue to support each other as an academic community, to listen with empathy and to make space for difficult conversations as we navigate increasingly complex global events together.

Universities play a special role during this evolving time in history, and I believe that SFU is being called on to lead—to model a way forward that is rooted in compassion and open dialogue. Thanks to all of you for your contributions to building a kinder and more inclusive future.

Joy Johnson
President and Vice-Chancellor
Simon Fraser University

There are many resources available to students, faculty and staff needing support during this time. Please visit our Community Supports page and reach out if you need help.