In December 2015, U of T agreed to begin the collection of its students’ demographic data pertaining to race, following pressure from the Black Liberation Collective’s (BLC) U of T chapter. The purported goal, according to the Director of News and Media Relations, Althea Blackburn-Evans, was to “further the university’s interest in embedding diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Almost two years later, in October 2017, U of T committed to the exact same agreement. This time it was called the “Action Plan for Inclusive Excellence” and all other Canadian universities had also signed on. Just over a year later, U of T has yet to release all the data associated with these pledges.
It is important to consider why the BLC would want this data in the first place. They are hoping that the data reveals that Black students at U of T are underrepresented relative to their demographics in Canada — and that this will prove the existence of discrimination that can be rectified by demographic engineering.
Campus bureaucracies like the Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity office, the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, and Human Resources & Equity are also in pursuit of this diversity agenda. However, nobody thinks to ask what exactly the goal is and what happens when it is achieved.
And there’s a good reason why nobody mentions specifics when talking about diversity: it’s because it would quickly be revealed as a nonstarter. For instance, consider racial diversity. Presumably, the goal would be to attain proportional representation at the university such that the university sample aligns with the broader demographics.
However, the first question that emerges is what demographics should serve as the baseline, whether that is the city, province, or country. Furthermore, provided perfect racial representation is achieved relative to a given chosen demographic, other criteria — such as ethnicity or religion — could face a representation problem.
Next, the complication emerges as to whether proportional representation would have to apply to every possible division. For instance, in the case of gender, one faculty or discipline might have more women, and another more men. This might have to be rectified until there is perfect gender parity in every case.
The bureaucrats in the diversity offices are likely aware of the difficulties and impracticalities of their agenda. But the point of their existence is to ensure that they have a job that never finishes. No matter how ‘diverse’ the university may be, they will always be able to point to a specific subset as having too many of the ‘wrong’ people.
For example, our sports teams are too white, medical school isn’t Black enough, there aren’t enough women in engineering — and so on. While the diversity objective remains unclear and unspecified, some demographic data does already exist to provide insight into what our university looks like.
Since 2004, U of T has participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement, which is an optional survey for students that includes demographic questions. In 2017, 9,380 students responded. The gender divide skewed about 55 per cent female; the ethnicity of first years was 66 per cent Asian, between Southeast, East, and West; 31 per cent white; five per cent Black; four per cent Latinx; and two per cent Indigenous. These add up to more than 100 per cent because respondents select multiple identities. LGBTQ+ students are about 15 per cent of the entire student population.
Even taking into account that about a quarter of first-year students are international, the underrepresented groups are men, Indigenous peoples, and whites, relative to Canadian demographics at large. Apart from Indigenous peoples, who certainly aren’t ignored by Equity & Diversity, it is difficult to understand how we have not already accomplished the mission of diversity. How the diversity advocates would respond to data that shows the opposite of underrepresentation — even overrepresentation — is a question worth asking.
We should especially consider that the inclusion of one demographic has to come at the cost of another. For instance, it would be unfair for the diversity office to discriminate against Asian students, who are by far the most overrepresented demographic. This hasn’t gone well for Harvard University.
Indeed, the quality of admission standards might be compromised if demographic engineering were to prioritize diversity — and this is likely to upset students who are currently overrepresented by virtue of their competence.
The activist wings of the humanities have spent decades arguing that underrepresentation of a group constitutes discrimination. But they will likely not agree that equal representation indicates a lack of discrimination, or that underrepresentation of traditional oppressors indicates discrimination in the opposite direction. Instead, they will likely deny that these situations exist. They have a narrative to maintain, and the data being demanded threatens it.
Given that the diversity officers have been in this position for a while, they will likely release a report, as opposed to raw data. Their thesis will approximate, ‘We’ve increased our diversity, but there is still a long way to go.’ For an existing example, consider the annual diversity report released by the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. There’s no mention of any axes of intersectionality where the ‘marginalized’ might be overrepresented — namely, no mention of race.
Instead, there are a series of graphs that show that the gender ratio is steadily approaching parity, but that women are still underrepresented. Conveniently, the conclusion indicates that the diversity offices are doing good work and are still needed. Nobody will have to confront the fact that maybe we no longer need an army of diversity-obsessed administrators and activists.
None of this would be an issue if the grievance studies hadn’t translated into bureaucracies that do nothing but reduce people to superficial characteristics that are orthogonal to competence. We are, above all, individuals, and should be treated as such. The politicization of demographics should be scrutinized.
It’s about time that the administration recognize that the diversity offices aren’t clear or consistent, let alone beneficial to the university.
George McKeown is a fifth-year PhD student in the Department of Chemistry.