In April, two reports based on racial equity in education involving data from the Toronto District School Board were published. These detailed a number of issues facing Black students including an increased likelihood of being streamed into non-academic programs, a higher likelihood of suspension due to attitude rather than behaviour and higher drop-out rates.
These reports mainly concerned high school policies. These issues of racial equity are hypothesized to continue at a post-secondary level given that the pathways to this level have these concerns.
The influence of high school policies can be observed, but the effects of universities’ policies cannot.
As revealed by a CBC News investigation in March, 63 out of 76 Canadian universities could not provide a breakdown of their student populations by race. The data is not there to draw any conclusions from.
“How can you decide if access programs are working if you have no way of measuring the population that should be most affected by these access policies?” said Karen Robson, head of the Gateway Cities team and the Ontario Research Chair in Educational Achievement and At-Risk Youth.
The Gateway Cities Project, a four year program funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, is centered on examining the determinants of post-secondary pathways for high school students in five cities: Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, New York and London, England. One of the main concerns brought up by Robson is this inability to access pathways from the perspective of Canadian post-secondary institutions.
McMaster is one of the 63 could not provide a breakdown. They do not ask students to provide information about their racial identity.
“How can you decide if access programs are working if you have no way of measuring the population that should be most affected by these access policies?”
Ontario Research Chair
Educational Advancement and At-Risk Youth
There are a few reasons why there is opposition to this in Canadian universities. The first is that there is misinformation about the legality of collecting the data. Concordia stated it is illegal to ask in Quebec in the CBC investigation, but this is not the case.
Robson mentioned that there is a lot of misinformation that universities have about the legality of asking for data even if they did not state this upfront.
“A lot of administration believes that collecting race data is a violation of human rights when in fact, it is not. I don’t know where this came from, I really don’t, and it’s a total red herring.”
The “Policy and guidelines on racism and racial discrimination” paper created by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, approved in 2005, mentions that the collection of data about race is permissible and recommended.
The second issue is the threat of being seen as racist. The investigation stated Mount Royal University had this worry, and University of Waterloo explained it does not collect the data because the school does not discriminate based on race or any other grounds.
“It’s not so surprising that we’re not collecting race data if we can’t even have conversations about race without feeling like we might be being racist just by talking about it,” said Robson.
There appears to be some progress being made at McMaster towards collecting data.
“McMaster’s not particularly special in that they don’t collect race data. … I’m working with admin on retention strategies. I have brought this up, and they are receptive to collecting this kind of data,” said Robson.