Most universities don’t collect data on student race, including Carleton

Many Canadian universities have little to no substantial data on how their students identify racially, according to a recent CBC investigation.

Over the past five months, CBC asked 76 Canadian universities to provide racial information about their student population, and more than 60 universities—including Carleton University—said they don’t collect that data.

Jeremy McDonald, the executive producer of the CBC report, said in an email the investigation was prompted by a recent increase in discussions about race and discrimination on campuses, and the information was gathered during CBC investigations on sexual assaults at universities.

“In what is supposed to be an enlightened environment, racialized students say they are dealing with challenges that can have implications for their academic performance and overall experience,” he said.

El Jones, a sociology professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, said that universities usually like to talk about diversity rather than race, which could explain why universities do not collect racial data on students.

Kareen Onyeaju, programming co-ordinator at the Carleton University Students’ Association’s Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Hall (REC Hall), said via email she thinks it’s “sad” academic institutions choose to hide this data from students when it could have enormous benefits. She said universities should ask how students identify racially and collect that information.

“It would be interesting to learn how ‘diverse’ Canadian campuses really are,” she said.

The report indicates that some universities rely on a voluntary U.S.-based undergraduate survey called the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), but the University of Toronto and Ryerson University are planning to gather racial data as part of a student census.

Onyeaju said the benefit of having the data is that it allows universities to give more support to racialized students. She said schools who have neglected to have or voted against having a space like REC Hall on their campuses would give it a second thought if they had the data.

“An awareness is lacking across the board. Indigenous and other racialized students deserve to have a voice,” she said.

Keisha Derrick, a third-year global and international studies student at Carleton, said she doesn’t think universities should collect racial data on students.

She said this data might serve better if collected by an impartial third party.

“I worry that collection of that data would be used for targeting students or corporate uses,” she said, and added she’s concerned about privacy and how personal data might be used.

Derrick said she agrees the data could be used for better serving students, but she would prefer to see concrete examples of that before she’d push for it to be collected.

– Photo illustration by Angela Tilley