People of SFU: Meet Seth Erais, Program Manager for SFU Public Square
Natalie Lim, SFU News
If you look up Seth Erais on the SFU Public Square website, you'll see that his job title is listed as “program manager.” When Erais and I met via Zoom last month so that I could learn more about his work, I asked him what that means—what he actually does. A better question might have been “what don't you do?”
Erais’ days consist of supporting SFU Public Square’s day-to-day operations and logistics. This includes everything from event planning and faculty engagement to running SFU Public Square’s Peer Education Program and helping bring the annual Community Summit to life.
But for Erais, who has a background in religious studies and intercultural dialogue, all of this work can really be boiled down to one thing: storytelling.
“Stories can become spaces for learning, exchange, understanding and respect, for all these pieces that help us understand how our world is put together and how things can change,” he says. “I always think about my work through the lens of asking, what can we do as people to support other people in sharing their stories?”
Through that lens, Erais has helped execute dozens (if not hundreds) of events, in collaboration with partners from across SFU and beyond. From April to November 2020, the Distant, Not Disengaged event series—produced by SFU Public Square in partnership with CityHive and the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue—sparked important discussions on anti-Asian racism, the overdose emergency, and the importance of race-based data during COVID-19.
“With every event we do, there are so many conversations behind the scenes where we ask our partners, ‘What do you need from us? How can we work with you to have conversations that aren’t being held elsewhere?’” he tells me.
“We always say, we’re not the experts on these topics. But we’re lucky to have a platform that brings people together, and when we hand that platform over to our amazing partners so they can share their stories, that’s when the magic happens.”
If you've attended any of SFU Public Square's events over the years, you've seen this magic in action, the thought and care put into making sure events are accessible, timely and centered around topics related to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI).
Erais credits SFU Public Square's partners for helping to bring a JEDI lens to these events, but also considers it essential to keep up-to-date on best JEDI practices in accessibility and event design—a point of pride for him is that every SFU Public Square event held during COVID-19 (except one) has featured closed captioning. And, he says, this work is not only important, but deeply personal.
“As a trans man, I’ve had experiences where I show up to a space and haven’t felt safe or welcome or included. So if I can do something that allows people to attend our events and feel more comfortable, or be a bit more vulnerable, I want to do it. When someone is willing to share who they are, that’s when you get that real ‘aha’ moment and those powerful instances of storytelling. That’s when you get inspired to think differently.”
Erais is currently working from home, accompanied by his dog Cleo, who he calls his “best work companion of life.” But with a return to campus on the horizon, he’s already thinking about what he’ll do on his first day back in the office at 312 Main St.
“I’m going to do a tour of all the local restaurants in the area. I really miss the food, to be honest,” he laughs. “And of course, I can’t wait to reunite with the SFU Public Square team in person. We’re a small but mighty team that collaborates on so much. I truly believe that this work wouldn’t be possible without all of us.”
Until then, Erais’ work continues—there’s always a new event on the horizon, a new project to tackle and an endless supply of stories to help tell.
“What is our world if it’s not built on story?” he asks, near the end of our time together. “That’s who we are, as humans.”
This was published on SFU News on June 3, 2021.