Ryerson University commits to better data on diversity
As universities grapple with a lack of information, school hopes its new survey can break down barriers to learning.
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Ryerson University has moved to track diversity on campus, as schools across the country come under scrutiny for having too little data to make informed decisions.
The new Student Diversity Self-ID survey is voluntary, covering undergraduate and graduate students. It will also be broken down by program. Data on individuals will not be used, and students can refuse to answer questions.
Tamar Myers, of the school's equity and community inclusion office, hopes the end result will be programming that's more reflective of the groups being served, ranging from Indigenous and racialized populations to women to people with disabilities.
More data is key to eliminating biases, said Anthony Morgan, a Toronto human-rights lawyer who specializes in issues of racial justice.
“Racialized student groups are really frustrated with what they see as barriers to more formal inclusion,” he said. “They feel devalued and point to the fact that there’s no tracking. Or when there’s tracking, there’s no public reporting.”
Myers said Ryerson’s project has been two years in the making, guided by consultations with student groups. A similar employee-focused project launched in 2014 provided "valuable" data and informed many decisions, Myers said.
“After we rolled out the employee one, we knew we wanted to do the same for students," she said.
Members of Universities Canada — a group that lobbies for universities at the federal level — committed last month to a seven-point diversity blueprint that would develop stronger action plans on campuses, including better data.
In early 2016, the University of Toronto became the country’s first university to openly commit to compiling race-based data on students, but its survey is still in development.
“As far as I’m aware, we are the only university collecting this breadth of diversity data on an ongoing basis, with plans to make it freely available,” Myers said, adding that Ryerson will post ongoing reports with emerging patterns online.
“I think it’s a powerful step in the right direction, if we’re looking for accountability and transparency,” said Morgan. “You can only have credibility when you have the data.”