Posted in Features

Six people who changed SFU forever

Contributions small and large, these people shaped SFU as we know it today

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SFU is the “instant university” that has been educating makers and movers since 1965. Its halls have seen some brilliant minds, but these six people in particular have helped shaped SFU as we know it today.

There’s one question students are consistently asked: “Are you SFU?”

This is a question I have struggled to answer. I don’t know if I am SFU, if I’ll ever be SFU, and if I will ever contribute to this university the way some have. And the truth is, a lot of us won’t. But these six people are all students or faculty who have given themselves to SFU, and who have become SFU in one way or another. They are all people we should turn to for inspiration, for courage, and for motivation. These six people are SFU.

1. Maggie Benston

A chemistry professor in the late ‘60s, and later a faculty member of the computer science department, Maggie Benston’s impact on SFU is one that can’t go unrecognized. She may have never been an SFU student, but her work on campus changed the way people looked at SFU. While she was a scientist by trade, she was also a profoundly influential women’s rights activist. In the mid-‘70s she co-founded the women’s studies department at SFU. She lent her voice to women everywhere by unapologetically pushing for equality. Her ideas about women in the workforce inspired many. An article she wrote in 1969, titled “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation” was one of the groundbreaking pieces that highlighted the amount of unpaid labour women were doing at home and how that unpaid labour was creating mass economic inequality. Benston was a leader at SFU and an inspiration for women everywhere. Her contributions to the school and to gender equality only bettered our reputation as a radical university that was determined to better the world around us.

2. Mobina Jaffer

The Honourable Mobina Jaffer was born in Uganda to a South Asian family. She studied in the United Kingdom and later came to SFU. What makes Jaffer stand out from others is that she is the first South Asian woman, as well as the first Muslim and African-born person, to be appointed to the Canadian Senate. Jaffer already held a law degree from the University of London when she came to SFU to study executive development, but her ambition was endless. After years of practising law in BC, and a few campaigns for office, she was made a senator by prime minister Jean Chrétien in 2001. She was later appointed to the Special Envoy to the Peace Process in Sudan in 2002, all the while chairing the Canadian Committee on Women, Peace, and Security that same year.

SFU has fought hard to be recognized as a top Canadian university, and these are some of the people we have to thank.

3. Roy Miki

Poet and writer Roy Miki has been an influential voice in the Japanese community. Miki had studied at the University of Manitoba, as well as the University of British Columbia, before coming to SFU. His poetry has largely focused on questions of race and identity, and what these two concepts mean in the context of modern-day Canada. Miki was a faculty member of the SFU English department before his retirement, but his heart was with the activist work he did to empower Japanese-Canadians. Miki reminds us that not all great contributions to SFU need to be flashy. Through his art and thoughtful criticism of race and identity in Canada, he has added to SFU’s reputation of being a university that fosters equality.

4. Elaine Bernard

In the ‘80s, PhD student Elaine Bernard began to make big waves. She was director of the labour program during her studies, which was a challenge she was up for because of her experience as a labour historian for the Telecommunications Workers Union and for the Brewery, Winery, and Distillery Workers Union. She stayed in her role of director until 1989, when she became the executive director of the Harvard Trade Union Program. Bernard has since spent her life advocating for workers’ rights. In many ways, Bernard has embodied the radical ideals that SFU has prided itself on. SFU was once known for its protests and fierce rejection of educational norms, and Bernard was a part of the era of radicalism on campus. In recent years, her contributions to organized labour have included many published works as well as lectures.

5. Terry Fox

Who would have thought that a kinesiology student at SFU from Port Coquitlam would become one of Canada’s national heroes? Diagnosed with cancer at 18 and running his Marathon of Hope at 21, Terry Fox proved that nothing was going to keep him down. His run across Canada, beginning in St. John’s and ending in Thunder Bay, has inspired events around the world that have helped raise money for cancer research. To date, it’s estimated that his determination has led to over $650 million raised for cancer research. While Fox is largely known for his Marathon of Hope, he exemplified perseverance in other parts of his life that made him a student worth recognizing. Fox had always dreamt of being a basketball player, but he wasn’t the tallest and coaches felt he would be a better fit for other sports. But he worked tirelessly to became a great player. He worked his way up the bench and made up for what he lacked in height with hard work. During his time at SFU, he played on the men’s junior varsity team. After he lost part of his leg to cancer, Fox again proved nothing could stop him from doing what he loved and played on a paraplegic team.

6. Margaret Trudeau

Before marrying Pierre Trudeau and becoming first lady of Canada, Margaret Trudeau walked the halls of SFU. She’s been active in politics, but it’s her work in mental health advocacy that deserves the most recognition. Living with bipolar disorder, Margaret Trudeau has worked tirelessly to ensure that we all have a healthy body and mind. Having published books that document her own experiences, her push to end stigma surrounding mental health issues has made her one of SFU’s finest.

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