Statement from the VP, PEI: Addressing Racism and Hate at SFU
Content Warning: This message references anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, Islamophobia, Sexualized Violence and overall systemic oppressions. Please consider self-care needs and access available supports if needed.
Recently members of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) council and other Simon Fraser University (SFU) students were subject to anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, Islamophobia and sexualized violence when an impersonator joined an SFSS-organized zoom meeting and posted targeted hateful comments in the chat. The incident, and all the visible and invisible discriminations and oppressions it represented was abhorrent, and the behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated at SFU.
The incident happened during an SFSS executive council meeting. The meeting was held on a zoom account with limited safety restrictions in place. Following the incident, the acting president of the SFSS asked for support from SFU to put more comprehensive safeguards in place for future meetings. That was begun and better processes were in place for the next meeting, which passed without incident.
As the SFSS is an autonomous organization, arrangements to partner on such solutions need to be made in collaboration and with careful attention. Over the past few days, the SFSS and SFU have been in discussions that led to a decision to establish a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will establish a process for SFU to administer services, supports and accountability mechanisms on behalf of SFSS according to agreed principles. The MOU is in development and will be in place early in the new year. This is an important step forward, and we are grateful to the SFSS executive for their partnership, which will enable us to work together to prevent future incidents of this nature and to implement SFU’s policies immediately when needed. For example, SFU has strong mechanisms in place to investigate incidents under a number of policies, including the student code of conduct, once an incident report is made, although personal information related to any incident report cannot be shared.
This incident has caused significant re-traumatization across our SFU communities, especially the students targeted, and I want to acknowledge the impact this has had on all of you in the midst of ongoing concerns about our institutional capacity to respond adequately and appropriately. We are confident as above that we are putting the right safeguards in place going forward. Ongoing concerns about how students who experience hate can be better supported have also been brought forward. Many supports are available and offered to students at their discretion. However, any supports utilized also contains personal information, which cannot be shared.
More broadly, the incident raised questions about SFU’s commitment to anti-racism, anti-oppression and to taking action to advance inclusion of equity-deserving groups. President Joy Johnson, the executive team, and I continue to stand behind our commitments to Truth and Reconciliation and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as you, our community have called for as recently as through the SFU: What’s Next? consultation and for many of you for far too long. We acknowledge that we have much work to do, including communicating better the progress and/or status of our commitments. To that end, you can expect at least semesterly, and other timely updates as needed on actions advancing our equity commitments starting in the new year.
Our focus now is on continuing to put in safeguards to prevent similar incidents happening again and ensuring if/when needed, compassionate and trauma-informed response to anyone impacted as well as implementing our zero-tolerance policies as appropriate. Some have asked why the seeming silence from our executive leadership in response. I want you to know that as the executive member responsible for our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion commitments and response, I am committed to responding clearly and accountably and not in any way that would be performative. That is why our immediate response was to those most directly impacted and to ensuring we had taken and initiated appropriate actions before updating broadly. Our focus will be to continue taking accountable action now and into the future. Thank you.