What is a right?

In this context, your rights as a graduate student are a set of expectations you hold regarding principles of fairness, conduct, and entitlements regarding any process you engage in during your time at SFU. 

Natural Law or Justice

In some cases, rights expressed in this document are not explicitly expressed in policies. However, institutional practice and interpretations exist that support the expression of these statements as a right. 

Support and Advocacy

A support person can be a friend, family member, partner, or someone you trust in the community. A support person is involved in a meeting to give you emotional support. They will generally not speak in a meeting unless either party specifically requests it.

An advocate can be anyone you choose. An advocate is someone who will go to a meeting with you or for you. They are empowered by you to speak on your behalf. If you are at the meeting, the presence of an advocate does not prevent you from fully participating in the meeting. Your support person or advocate could also be the GSS Advocate or SFU Ombudsperson. Both of these offices are confidential and they will only communicate on your behalf at your request and with your consent. The GSS Advocacy office is also completely independent of the university, structurally and financially, and prioritizes only the interests of the student, not the interests of the University. Often University staff are unlikely to advocate on a student’s behalf as they would be put in a position of advocating against a colleague and/or their employer.

Collective Advocacy: As a student you also have the ability to advocate collectively with other students who are facing similar issues or who have together identified a systemic problem. Working together also creates a peer support network for the students involved. Contact the GSS Advocacy Office if you have more questions.

Procedural Fairness

It is important to manage expectations about what is achievable through enacting institutional policies. However, there are some fundamental rights held by anyone who chooses to put policies in motion that are referred to as “procedural fairness.” Procedural fairness is integral to all policies and procedures, though the level of procedural fairness required does vary depending on the circumstances and the forum for the decision. Being fair requires a nuanced decision-making process that takes into account all relevant circumstances, as opposed to strict reliance on the blanket application of a policy that was never designed to anticipate all situations and circumstances. What fairness demands of the decision-maker will vary depending on the circumstances. The more serious the potential consequences to the student, the more procedural protections will be required. 

Through transparency and consistency, it ensures a fair process for all parties working to resolve issues brought up through the engagement of all policiesBy enacting any policy and procedure of SFU, you can expect:

  • The right to be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect;
  • Clearly defined and stated rights and responsibilities of each party involved in the process;
  • The right for respondents to complaints to be made aware of allegations and evidence brought against them. 
    • Not all decisions made about graduate students are disciplinary in nature. To reflect this, procedural fairness includes students having a right to notice that a decision affecting them will be made, the possible outcomes of that decision, and enough information about that decision (and adequate notice) that they are able to participate meaningfully in the process;
  • An understanding of what to expect from all stages of the process including including estimated time frames, delays, potential outcomes, and reporting
  • The right to reasons explaining how any decision is made and what information was considered in this process. 
  • An impartial decision-maker;
  • If you should have concerns about the confidentiality of the process you are involved in you have the right to raise this concern and get clarity about the role of confidentiality within that particular procedure;
  • The ability to be represented or accompanied by legal counsel, a support person, and/or a advocate;
  • Parties should also be made immediately and regularly aware of their rights and options for representation, advocacy, services, and supports throughout the process; 
  • The rights to transparency related to any investigation and adjudication processes; and
  • The right to appeal decisions you feel violate procedural fairness.


Although university policies do not explicitly protect students from retaliation at this time, the Graduate Student Society believes that students should be able to rely on protection from any form of retaliation when standing up for their rights in any way. This includes when students are filing or being named in a complaint, or if there has been evidence given towards a complaint. 

This means you should have no fear of expulsion, penalization, withholding of other rights, eviction, or coercion. 

The fear is sufficient in itself to discourage students from coming forward with a concern or complaint or from participating in a legitimate university process. The GSS believes that all policies that purport to provide a respectful environment, one free from harassment and discrimination, where academic and non-academic misconduct are promptly addressed and responses to allegations of sexual misconduct are trauma- informed, are empty and ineffectual if individuals do not feel that they can engage those policies and processes without fear of retaliation.

If you feel you are facing retaliation for raising a concern that is valid, contact the GSS Advocate or the SFU Ombudsperson. 

It is your right to contact the BC Ombudsperson or the BC Human Rights Tribunal if you feel as though at any point you feel your rights have been violated in a way that can not be addressed by the institution or you have a need to move beyond the institution due to systemic issues.