On November 16, acting Vice-Provost Students Micah Stickel sent an email to all students informing them of a new questionnaire, the U of T Student Equity Census, that will collect data on the identities of students at the University of Toronto. This anonymous questionnaire is aimed at collecting more data on ethnicity, race, gender identity, disability, Indigeneity, and sexual orientation and is accessible to all students with a UTORID.
The collection of identity-based data for students is an important step forward — although it is worth expressing concern that it has taken four years since the initial commitment to take such action.
Race-based data provides a holistic view of the demographics on campus and helps to identify representation gaps for racialized and other marginalized students. This information can help develop equitable policies that can implement much needed long-term structural change. The data can provide the necessary support for the growing diversity of the student body, and tackle systemic racism at U of T.
U of T’s questionnaire comes at a crucial time when students are demanding the collection of more race-based data on campus to better address the social, economic, and mental health needs of racialized students at U of T.
On September 30, the All Out Virtual Protest organized by student leaders from racialized groups and allies from universities in the GTA further addressed these needs. The protest called for racial justice for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) communities in Canada, calling for more forms of aid for BIPOC students and the collection of race-based data demographics.
However, the question remains: what will happen to the data once the survey is completed by thousands of students across U of T’s three campuses? And if the data is used to advocate for change at the university, what will that change look like for underrepresented communities?
The change must start at the policy and community level. Through specific race-based data, more transparency must be delivered with regard to recruitment, financial aid, and information on campus safety. When students report discrimination cases at the university level, they can be supported by the necessary data to push for collective change, echoing the needs of different communities on campus.
To hold the university accountable to change, anti-racism task forces can help — which we have seen develop this year at Trinity College and at U of T as a whole. Race-based data can help to provide clear targets for task forces so that students can have confidence in their goals.
U of T’s equity census is an important opportunity for the university to look inward — not only on the matter of race, but also other dimensions like sexuality and gender. But it is only the first step — the university must show that, and how, it is willing to use the data to effect meaningful change.
Janine AlHadidi is a fourth-year political science and diaspora and transnational studies student at St. Michael’s College.