On June 9, 2020 the Graduate Student Society of SFU (GSS) Council passed a motion in solidarity with movements around the world standing in defense of black lives and to “condemn the systemic racism playing out on a daily basis in the US and Canada, as well as the abuse, racial profiling, and killing of Black people at the hands of law enforcement.” The resolution also directed future action on behalf of the Society including expressing solidarity, promoting education and calling for specific action. This letter is being circulated to graduate students and the university community as the first step in this process.
The number of Black people that continue to lose their lives, including trans, gender non-conforming, women and men, in the United States, Canada and around the world has been brought to the public’s attention by the many people rising up to demand justice in the streets, and we ask our members to stand in solidarity with them.
The systemic racism that specifically targets black communities, anti-black racism, is not new. Awareness of, witnessing and being challenged about anti-black racism is also not new, nor is the lack of action in response. The GSS and GSS members have a role to play and apart from the efforts of Black members of the GSS and some supporters, we can see that our collective efforts have not been adequate. This includes white students and other people of color as they are not equally impacted by racism and anti-black racism exists within people of color communities. We recognize that the entire spectrum of racism is premised on not being black, or Indigenous, but being white. And that colorism (valuing lighter skin) exists in societies around the world.
In Canada, Black people experienced and continue to experience racism and other forms of discrimination and violence by the police and Canadians alike. Anti-carding activist Desmond Cole was racially profiled by Vancouver police on his first day in the city for an event. Jamiel Moore-Williams was violently assaulted by Vancouver Police in February of 2018 for jaywalking. There have been countless other incidents of violence towards Black people in Canada, including the destruction of the Black community of Africville in Halifax, and the vibrant Black community of Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver in the 1960s. In May 2020, Regis Korschiniskis-Paquet, a 29 year old Black-Indigenous woman, fell to her death from the 24th floor of her building after the police entered her apartment in response to a call for mental health assistance. Although the police deem her case a suicide, her family is calling for the police to release their evidence in the name of transparency.
In the past few months at least 9 Indigenous people have been killed by the police and Indigenous people experience the highest rates of police violence and imprisonment in many of the communities we live in. Much like the history of modern policing in the United States is traced back to slave patrols that attempted to control Black people, the history of the RCMP in Canada is linked directly to the policing of Indigenous people and their lands.
The GSS and the entire SFU community must look critically at the role of policing and listen to the demands of Black and Indigenous communities that have been organizing against police abuse for generations. In order to further support self-education of GSS members about anti-black racism and police violence we are including some resources as a part of this letter.
Simon Fraser University (SFU) is not immune from displaying anti-Black racism. The Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA) for years faced displacement while neither SFSS, nor SFU, were prepared to secure them a space. SFU also has a history of remaining silent when tragedies affect Black communities and in the face of racist actions in Vancouver. For example, although the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guteurres described it as a global tragedy, SFU did nothing to recognize or acknowledge the Ethiopian Airline Flight 737 Max 8 crash in 2019, in which all 157 passengers aboard from three dozen nations died, including Africans and Canadians. SFU also remained silent after the news that Shelby McPhee, a Black man, was racially profiled by security at an academic conference held at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 2019. These are just two recent examples of the actions and inactions of the academic community in Vancouver that demonstrate a lack of prioritization of Black issues, further entrenching the systemic racism faced by Black people and people of African descent. There are countless personal accounts that are not on the public record.
We recognize that this issue is not simply going to be resolved by having people acknowledge and consider their white privilege within or outside the University. Specifically, white supremacy, white nationalism and the violently racist movements gaining power around the world must be challenged. The foundations of the societies that we live in are colonial, anti-indigenous and anti-black. This means that anti-black racism permeates our police, healthcare, social programs, media and educational institutions, including universities. Therefore a meaningful response requires a structural response beyond words, reviews, workshops or training.
The GSS is committed to advocating for meaningful action by the University and would like to highlight several things that the University needs to seriously consider:
- Establishing policies that formally limit the presence of police on campus
- Increasing scholarships for low income black and indigenous students
- Changing the name of SFU sports teams
- Critically examining how anti-black and colonial narratives are perpetuated through curriculum and teaching practices
- Preventing hate speech on campus and in classrooms
- Ensuring accountability for oppressive behaviour
- Improving hiring policies both to address equity and to prevent providing a platform to ignorant and oppressive ideas in all academic fields
- Limiting exposure of students to faculty with demonstrated ignorant or oppressive ideas
- Creating means for accountability of University partners, contractors and lease holders
The GSS has been advocating for students in the past. We will continue to do so for all members of the society and particularly the students that endure disproportionate levels of oppression. In addition to pursuing the above list of items with the University, the GSS will deepen its efforts to listen to its members with respect to developing and enacting specific actions within the society, or advocating for changes in the University.
Finally we ask that the GSS members speak up. Recognize, challenge and name anti-black racism and demand accountability from those perpetuating it. As a student society that wants to promote the participation and direction from students we also rely on you to help establish an environment that provides dignity to all students regardless of race, ability, gender or class. We ask you to please stand in solidarity with Black students seeking structural change, accountability and justice.
GSS Executive Committee
The following is a very modest sampling of resources that could be of use to our members:
Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present
Hogan’s Alley Society: Daylighting the presence of Black history in Vancouver and throughout British Columbia
Black Lives Matter – Vancouver: Working Against Police Brutality and Anti-Blackness and Uplifting Black Voices
Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside
Institutionalized Racism – A Syllabus: How can we help students understand George Floyd’s death in the context of institutionalized racism?