By Sarah Tomlinson
Ryerson’s Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion (OVPECI) is launching its first Student Diversity Self-ID report at the end of the winter 2021 semester.
Using data collected from students in 2019 through an online questionnaire on RAMMS, the report will reveal the diversity of Ryerson students while also identifying the gaps in representation in programs. Its goal is to inform deliberate action to increase opportunity and access for current and future students, according to the OVPECI.
In previous years, the OVPECI released several Employee Self-ID reports, the most recent one being published in 2018.
The reports are meant to provide updated information on the recruitment, representation and retention of employees from five equity groups: women, Aboriginal Peoples, persons with disabilities, 2SLGBTQ+ people as well as South Asian, Chinese and Black students—the three largest racialized groups in Ryerson’s student population, the GTA and Ontario, according to a statement from the OVPECI.
According to Canada Council for the Arts, equity-seeking groups are “those that identify barriers to equal access, opportunities and resources due to disadvantage and discrimination and actively seek social justice and reparation.”
Since publishing the employee diversity reports, community members have been asking for a student assessment.
On March 16, the university released a sample of the data which showcased a “snapshot” of the demographics among Ryerson undergraduate and graduate students in comparison to that of the GTA/Ontario population.
In an email to The Eyeopener, the OVPECI said over 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students completed the survey for the 2019 Diversity Self-ID Report—a 96 per cent response rate.
According to the sample, women make up 52 per cent of the GTA/Ontario population. Comparatively, they make up 55 per cent of Ryerson undergraduate students and 54 per cent of graduate students.
Further, while racialized people make up 51 per cent of the GTA/Ontario population, they make up 48 per cent of Ryerson undergraduate students and 39 per cent of graduate students.
When looking at the data, Usha George, the director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement, said she wasn’t surprised.
“I think we have a student body which is really diverse,” she said. “We have always known Ryerson has a diverse student body so this confirms that in some ways.”
In the 2013-14 Diversity Self-ID Report, 55 per cent of students in full-time programs identified as racialized or of visible minorities compared to 24 percent of full-time faculty.
According to the 2019 report, the 2SLGBTQ+ community makes up eight per cent of undergraduate students and nine per cent of graduate students in comparison to 10 per cent of the GTA/Ontario population. One per cent of undergraduate students and graduate students are Aboriginal, compared to three per cent of the GTA/Ontario population.
Keely Vaudrie is a former nutrition student at Ryerson and member of the queer community. She said the data fulfilled her expectations because she noticed that Ryerson wasn’t always that inclusive. Although she never had any problems with staff, she struggled to find gender neutral washrooms in areas like Kerr Hall East.
Vaudrie also recalled being the only person from the 2SLGBTQ+ community when joining sport teams on campus.
“I would find myself consistently being the only queer person. And that to me just internally was hard because you don’t have anybody else that you associate with,” she said.
“[The survey] is the first step in being transparent about diversity but diversity is not only in identifying who is attending our university, but also following up on their progress”
Sam Howden, a fourth-year social work student, is Red River Métis from Treaty 1 territory in Winnipeg and the equity coordinator at the Indigenous Students’ Association. They said the relatively small proportion of Indigenous students at Ryerson is related to the barriers Indigenous peoples face in accessing education.
“It tends to be a very, very low average because of the difficulties of getting into post-secondary institutions and social determinants of health and other social determinants of education based on funding,” they said. In particular, Howden said some Indigenous students leave their reserves to access higher education only to find there’s not a lot of support, which impacts willingness to pursue higher education.
They added that the way courses are taught at universities mainly caters to non-equity-seeking groups. As a result, Howden had to adapt their learning strategies to succeed, which has forced them to internalize a lot of shame.
“[Indigenous people] traditionally come from a lot of oral storytelling communities, and that’s how our knowledge and information is passed on,” they said. “I would love an oral exam instead of a written exam. I function better this way.”
Although Howden said they’re skeptical about how accurate the data is, they understand why not all Indigenous students at Ryerson would want to self-identify. Due to the Indian Act—which was created to assimilate Indigenous peoples into settler-colonial society and terminate their cultural, social, economic and political distinctiveness, Indigenous peoples have been historically “dispossessed” from their identity.
Wendy Cukier is the founder of the Diversity Institute at Ryerson, which has tracked the representation of women in leadership roles and hosted projects focused on women in technology. She said gathering data on representation is crucial in any institution.
Collecting data surrounding people’s experiences in institutions is also important, she added.
“Connecting diversity data with things like employee engagement, or student engagement or patient satisfaction data is where you really get an understanding of how good a job an organization is doing in creating inclusion,” said Cukier.
George said going a step further would be to examine the experiences of equity-seeking groups incuding their graduation and employment.
“[The survey] is the first step in being transparent about diversity but diversity is not only in identifying who is attending our university, but also following up on their progress,” she said.
Through the work that the Diversity Institute has done, Cukier noticed that breaking down the categories established is also beneficial to promoting inclusion.
“We know that within the category of persons living with disabilities, there are big differences between people who for example have cognitive differences, versus people who have mobility differences,” she said.
Howden added that there should be categories for single parents, for people who work several jobs and for people who do more to support themselves outside of pursuing their education. “The more intersecting identities that you have, the more responsibility you most likely have.”
“If all you do is look at women as a category, it may conceal the fact that racialized women or Black women or Indigenous women, or women with disabilities have very different experiences”
Cukier echoed the call for intersectionality, saying it should play an important role in how data is collected. Different individuals often have combinations of identity factors that play a role in their experience in any institution and that data is important to recognize, she added.
“If all you do is look at women as a category, it may conceal the fact that racialized women or Black women or Indigenous women, or women with disabilities have very different experiences,” she said.
Among the broader GTA/Ontario population, 20 per cent of respondents identify as people with disabilities. At Ryerson, students with disabilities make up seven per cent of undergraduate students and six per cent of graduate students.
According to the OVPECI, the report will outline specific solutions and strategies that Ryerson will adopt to address barriers and increase access to education through a report card system.
Letter grades (A+ to D-) will be given to each program to evaluate the representation of each of the five equity groups, as well as the three largest racialized groups in the student population.
“The report cards reveal the pattern that while the overall data may show fairly high representation for some in undergraduate and graduate populations, it is not evenly distributed,” the OVPECI wrote.
According to the OVPECI, it received feedback from the community that self-identification is discriminatory in that it separates parts of the population. However, the office wrote that self-identification is a “necessary and important step to creating a robust and inclusive workforce.”
Employees and students can currently fill the questionnaire through RAMMS, according to Ryerson’s website on Self-ID reports. Although the university requires that employees complete the questionnaire, self-identification is voluntary as there is a “prefer not to answer” option for every self-identification question.
Howden said they hope the information is used to increase access to resources, education and acceptance for equity-seeking groups.
“I want to see other people, not just survive in this environment, really thrive and push through and do good things for this world and for their communities,” they said.