30 years of engaging communities across SFU’s Vancouver campus

When SFU opened its first location the Harbour Centre complex in 1989, it was the culmination of a 10-year effort to recognize an increasing need for educational programming in downtown Vancouver.

From a small storefront space on Howe Street to an expanded downtown campus with nine locations, SFU’s presence and impact on the city of Vancouver has increased dramatically. And, at the same time, the university has forged relationships and has become integrated with the community as it expanded its facilities and programs.

Initiatives such as SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement have been key to building meaningful community partnerships that help SFU students and faculty advance learning, dialogue and research for societal good.

“SFU’s mission around teaching, research and engagement—along with meeting the needs of the community—has been a complex and exciting undertaking,” says Am Johal, director of SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. The office provides programming for students and local residents that centers around social and environmental justice; arts, culture and community; and urban issues.

The strength of this work lies within the partnerships forged between academics, students and community organizations. Since 2011, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement has hosted 670 public events, 760 meetings and workshops engaging more than 77,000 people.

One long-running partnership is with the Downtown Eastside’s Heart of the City Festival where SFU hosts free events and performances at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Proceeds from SFU’s Woodward’s Cultural Programs’ annual Bah Humbug! holiday production also support the festival.

Other community education projects and partnerships include a journalism project with Megaphone Magazine to amplify Downtown Eastside resident voices. And Project Limelight—a performing arts program for kids in the Downtown Eastside—puts on an annual play at SFU’s Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre.

More than 25 per cent of SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement’s programming is connected to Indigenous-related themes. One example is a collaboration with SFU’s Office for Aboriginal Peoples, where SFU supports Salish singing and drumming workshops led by Russell Wallace, a traditional singer from the Lil’wat Nation in B.C.

Last year, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement began a bi-weekly podcast, Below the Radar, based out of 312 Main, to highlight and amplify changemakers in Vancouver. Interviews feature community leaders and organizations ranging from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives founder Seth Klein to The Binners’ Project, an organization that fosters social and economic inclusion of binners as part of the circular economy.

Evolving with the community

The desire to further expand community partnerships prompted SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement to develop a satellite office at the new Global Centre for Social and Economic Innovation at 312 Main. Residing in Vancouver’s former police headquarters, the new Centre houses a dynamic community of over 20 organizations who are committed to social and environmental justice.

“Establishing a presence at 312 Main re-enforces SFU’s commitment to engaging local communities in university life,” says Johal. “The opportunity to work collaboratively with other people who are committed to social and environmental justice will enrich the teaching, research and engagement mission of SFU in profound new ways – the community has a lot to teach us.”

SFU’s Vancouver campus turned 30 years old on May 5, 2019. A series of events showcased the campus’ innovative programming, research and community engagement. As the yearlong celebration of SFU's Vancouver campus' anniversary comes to an end, SFU looks forward to continuing its commitment to students, researchers and communities to share and embrace knowledge and generate real change.

For details, visit: www.sfu.ca/van30