Universities should collect race data

Fikir Worku, a student at the University of Waterloo was recently told that if she wanted to develop service centres for visible minorities on campus, she would have to collect the data on racial demographics herself. Most universities in Canada do not collect race data because race should not affect student admission into the university, but colourblindness in regards to race is an issue that is brought up in many communities of colour.

A person or institution that claims they ‘don’t see colour’ ignores the marginalization caused to non-white communities. Colourblindness plays up the idea that everyone is equal, and does not acknowledge the inequalities between white and non-white people.

Affirmative action in post-secondary admissions and job postings use race and other data to address these inequalities. They do not mean that a person is admitted to a university purely because of their race, but do ensure that a person’s race does not bar access to the same privileges that a white person would get.

Collecting racial data also allows for better allocation of services to visible minorities. Service centres are crucial to university students, especially those from marginalized communities. From the Womyn’s Center to the Race, Ethnicity and Cultural (REC) Hall, Carleton has centres for students to go to should they need to. Most universities have service centres like this.  

However, collecting racial data gets tricky and sensitive. Although the reason for collecting such data might be along the lines of affirmative action and addressing inequalities between white and non-white people, the data can be abused and used for the opposite purpose. Students of colour might be uncomfortable disclosing the data when they do not know whether giving an answer can help them or harm them.

To combat this, institutions should make it very clear what the data is being used for. There will nonetheless be backlash, namely from white students who feel they are being attacked, but the fact that whiteness is too often the focus needs to be addressed.

Universities and other institutions cannot leave students of colour to do the work, as they have at the University of Waterloo. More often than not, marginalized communities are told that they must do the grunt work.

But, the key thing for potential white allies to do, is listen. Instead of going to the extremes of jumping in without asking people of colour what they want, or saying that people of colour must do all the work lest they overstep boundaries, white allies should listen. When communities of colour ask them to step back, they should, and when asked to step forward, that’s when they should come in and help. More importantly, they should help in a way that the people at the center of the issue feel would be best, not what they themselves think.

Collecting racial data should be executed along these lines. What do the people of colour in institutions like universities want? Do they want to disclose their race, or would they prefer to not mention it? Rather than white people making the decisions for people of colour, white people should let people of colour make their own choices.

Photo by Trevor Swann