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A road map for flourishing: reflections on SFU signing the Scarborough Charter

Dec 15, 2021


Dr. June Francis, special advisor to the president on anti-racism and Associate Professor of Marketing in SFU’s Beedie School of Business.

By June N. P. Francis

On November 18, 2021, SFU was one of more than 40 universities and colleges across Canada that signed the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education, vowing to redress anti-Black racism and foster Black inclusion in higher education.

For me, and for many of the SFU students, faculty, staff and alumni that I worked with to provide feedback on the charter, this represents an enormous moment of possibility and hope.

I want to take a few moments to explain why, from my perspective, this charter’s significance cannot be overstated, and to share my thoughts on why the charter creates a road map for flourishing at SFU—not just for Black community members, but for all faculty, staff and students.

Acknowledging the problem

With the publication of the Scarborough Charter, the fact that we have historically failed to provide an environment of flourishing for Black faculty and staff is finally being acknowledged—and that acknowledgement is critical, because you can’t solve something that you aren’t willing to first identify and understand.

At SFU, we recently conducted the Diversity Meter and results showed that Black faculty and staff experience the university in ways that are quite different from non-Black employees. I hear this from Black students as well—feelings of isolation, exclusion, not being attended to, not seeing their intellectual traditions, history, worldview or perspectives represented. In fact, when we sit in spaces built from white and Eurocentric traditions, we often hear ideas that valorize, support and reproduce racism and the experience of racism.

And Black exclusion is not limited to specific sections of one institution. It exists in every area of academic study. This can be seen in STEM fields, which have failed to recognize the ways in which racism is embedded in the sciences, and the arts, which often exclude the great traditions of Black art and literature. If you look in business, you would think that Black people don’t exist as protagonists at all!

In every place we look, Black faculty, staff and students have historically just not flourished. SFU can feel like a white space that we are not welcomed into. So this charter, for the first time, is addressing these inequities head-on. I think that is absolutely critical.

The Scarborough Charter calls on institutions to collect data that is vital to understanding the unique ways in which racism appears. It calls on institutions to support Black academics through resources and funding and to create classrooms where Black students feel that their views will be valued rather than stifled; it advocates for continued dialogue and connection between institutions and the wider Black community. Most importantly, it creates accountability for the university. It asks institutions to come up with an action plan—a long-term commitment to structural change.

In short, the Scarborough Charter provides a road map for flourishing at SFU—for everyone.

Doing our flourishing together

While the charter aims to create possibilities of inclusion for the Black community, its scope and impact transcends the Black community. I truly think that this charter is about all students and faculty and staff at SFU.

Every time we’ve had an opportunity to create a space for Black scholars, students and faculty, what emerges is this enormous optimism, and a feeling that we can bring our full selves into this space. As I stated in a recent article I published, “The exclusion of scholarship that is of interest and relevant to their lives and worldviews is tantamount to the exclusion of Black and racialized scholars themselves.”

When we bring our full selves to the university, we also bring our worldview, research, pedagogy and the arts. And then students from all backgrounds get to engage with and learn from Black perspectives and intellectual traditions. I often think, if you could just see what it is that you’ve stifled out from the university, you would understand why inclusion is something we should all strive towards together!

I especially hope for solidarity between the Indigenous and Black communities because of our common history. The hierarchy of white supremacy was invented with our communities at the bottom—and all other forms of racism and exclusion follow that same logic. It’s all part of colonialism and structures of racial oppression. So when we address anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, it creates inclusion across the spectrum. It dismantles the racism embedded in the whole structure.

Let me give you one example. One of the most profound comments I ever received as a professor was from a Sikh student who told me, “Because I saw you as a Black woman walk into a space and stand there with dignity and joy and confidence about your Blackness, I finally know now that I, as a Sikh man, can go into a space and be a Sikh man. I don’t have to hide anymore.”

That comment made all of my work worthwhile. My hope is that every member of our community, no matter their background, can understand the possibilities that open up when we all flourish together.

The way forward

When I imagine what SFU could look like 20 years from now, my greatest hope is that we have students who finally believe that their ideas belong here. That faculty can do the kind of groundbreaking research I believe will contribute enormously to innovating solutions to some of the greatest challenges we’re facing as a country, from economic inequality and the climate crisis to social isolation and how we address mental and physical health.

As we bring students and staff and faculty together into a community of belonging, I think that we will have a happier, more thoughtful university community. One in which we can all flourish, whether it be in the arts, social sciences, sciences, humanities, technology, business or any other area of university life.

I believe the Scarborough Charter provides a road map towards this future, not just for SFU, but for society as a whole. Now the map is ready. It is time for us to dig in together and do the deep work that will bring us there. Let us all seize the opportunity provided by this charter and commit to addressing systemic racism in our personal, professional and institutional lives.

Dr. June Francis is SFU’s special advisor to the president on anti-racism, associate professor of marketing in the SFU Beedie School of Business, director of the Institute for Diaspora Research and Engagement at SFU, and co-founder of The Co-Laboratorio Project.