New Indigenous student space at SFU Burnaby creates community
It’s not always easy to stand out at a school as big as Simon Fraser University, especially for Indigenous students who can struggle to see themselves represented in its halls.
But students say they’re one step closer to feeling safe and visible on campus with the opening of the expanded Indigenous Student Centre (ISC) space in the 3000 level of the Academic Quadrangle at Burnaby campus.
“Having this space helped me connect with other Indigenous peers and reform the connections that I felt were missing in my life here,” said student Devin McCrae at the grand opening of the space Friday, Jan. 27. “I personally felt disconnected for most of my university experience here. I think it’s very important for Indigenous students to be visible in the school. Now that we have this space that’s not tucked away at the bottom floor of the AQ, I can see students going by to their classes and there’s a lot of foot traffic. It’s important to have a space just to let people know we exist on campus.”
The Burnaby expansion offers new work and study spaces to support student success, including computer stations and a meeting room with web conferencing equipment.
It also features a kitchen, drumming room and opportunities for cultural connections through the ISC’s programs.
Chris (Syeta’xtn) Lewis, SFU’s director of Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation, was once a student here as well and sees the need for the new space and the community it creates.
“When I was a student, we all crammed into a small office with a few chairs and a couch in the Maggie Benston Centre. Today, Indigenous students have multiple spaces where they can go, study and be with each other and share a meal. It’s about creating a community and ensuring that Indigenous people here, at SFU, are connecting with each other so that they build a sense of belonging and thrive,” Lewis said.
“We’re working hard so that Indigenous students, faculty and staff that come to SFU feel safe and welcome. To accomplish this goal, it’s important to see Indigenous languages on signs and walls to remind and harness that sense of belonging.”
The extra space has already been a boon, according to Jessica La Rochelle, director of Indigenous Student Services.
Even before the grand opening, La Rochelle says student services set up office hours in the space to help provide services and that it has become a hub for Indigenous students to meet with faculty.
One student has even defended their thesis in the space thanks to the video conferencing available in the board room.
The drumming room has added culture and a positive atmosphere to the space.
“Having a safe space is so important for students. They don’t have to explain anything, they don’t have to perform, they can just be themselves,” she said. “The students were quite vocal of having a space that is their own, that can be a place for a home away from home, and we’re just very grateful that we are able to provide that.”
ISC’s expanded presence isn’t restricted to Burnaby campus.
There’s also a new location at the Surrey campus and additional space has been allocated at the Vancouver campus for future expansion.
The construction of these new spaces was made possible through the partnership between the ISC, the Office for Aboriginal Peoples, Student Services and Facilities.
The project addresses calls to actions 8 and 11 of the Walk this Path with Us Report: to expand the Indigenous Student Centre on Burnaby Campus, and to use Aboriginal Strategic Initiative (ASI) funds to pilot the development and installation of safe spaces at Burnaby, and employ other funding opportunities in subsequent years to create dedicated spaces at the other campuses.
“We recognize that it is not just for Indigenous students, faculty and staff to do the work of Reconciliation,” says SFU president Joy Johnson. “It is for all of us to walk this path and move forward together. I’m excited to open this new space and celebrate a milestone on our journey, and as we continue to make progress, I look forward to the celebrations ahead.”
Visit the ICS website for more information on its study spaces and services.