When June Francis imagines SFU in the coming years, she pictures academia with a flourishing Black community.
It’s a vision of educators, staff, and students thriving in an institution that celebrates their excellence.
“We see representation across research, teaching, and senior administration,” Francis told the Straight by phone about her dream.
Francis is an associate professor with SFU’s Beedie School of Business and an advocate of inclusion, diversity, and equity. She is originally from Jamaica and moved to Canada to pursue higher education.
From June to December last year, she served as special adviser on antiracism to university president Joy Johnson.
During that period, SFU signed the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education.
The declaration was named after the University of Toronto Scarborough, where it was created. By signing the charter in November 2021, SFU joined more than 40 other universities across the country in a commitment to rectify anti-Black racism.
SFU’s Black Caucus, which Francis cofounded, and the Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry in the university contributed to the charter.
“For the first time,” Francis said in a university media release at the time, “academics across the country are coming together and asking our institutions to make a long-term commitment towards action.”
When reached by the Straight on February 1, Francis outlined some of the work she said needs to be done.
“Let me say the first thing I hope we’ll see is representation increases of Black faculty and staff at senior levels,” she said.
This entails not only being hired but promoted through the university system.
Francis explained that it also means that they should be “allowed to do the work that reflects their histories and worldviews”.
“I think it’s important to start there,” she said.
“It’s not sufficient, of course, but it is an important component because as we look at universities, we know that both Black faculty and staff are significantly underrepresented at SFU,” Francis said.
When SFU announced in November 2021 that it had signed the Scarborough Charter, it noted that it had been undertaking a number of measures “in line with the principles” of the declaration.
These included a vote by the SFU senate in the fall of that year to hire at least 15 additional Black tenure-track faculty members.
“I would like to see that happen quickly,” Francis said in the interview. “I would like to see the hiring processes and approach they take to create pathways to allow Black faculties to come to SFU.”
But it has to “go beyond hiring”.
“We need ways to support faculty who come here, so that includes ensuring that they rise through the ranks, their research is awarded and supported, [and] that teaching opportunities allow them to bring in this kind of material to the classroom,” Francis said.
This is crucial because “at the end of the day, universities are about students”.
Francis went on to explain how Black students feel “excluded”.
“So they’ll walk into a classroom, whether it’s business, science, technology, or arts, no matter where you look in the university, the content of what they get exposed to completely erases and really devalues Black history and Black thought,” she noted.
Francis added that this fosters a condition wherein students “intellectually and socially suffer”.
By way of example, Francis said that some Black students may be interested in doing further research about how racial bias is reflected in programming for artificial intelligence.
“But there is nobody to supervise them because all of their professors have been trained in the same way,” she said. “So often they don’t get to do the work they want and they don’t feel supported and they don’t go on to the career they like.”
Canada observes Black History Month in February.
As part of this observance, Francis will deliver a talk online about the history of anti-Black racism in Canadian schools and universities on Saturday (February 5), from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
For details about the virtual event, check out the website of the B.C. Black History Awareness Society.