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Why Are There Still Male-Only Scholarships in Canada?

A University of Saskatchewan student has complained that she's unable to win a $5,000 scholarship because she's a woman.

by Nathan Raine
Mar 9 2016, 4:20pm


Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Tanya Adrusieczko, a former master's student at the University of Saskatchewan, hoped to apply for the a scholarship to attend the London School of Economic and Political Science (LSE). Her grades were superb, and she'd already been admitted to the renowned school. But, she lacked one significant criteria to be eligible for the Benjamin J. Sanderson award: she didn't have a dick.

"Ultimately, the message was that 'You're ineligible because you're not a man,'" Adrusieczko told VICE. "These scholarships are clearly privileging a group that already has privilege."

The Sanderson Fellowship, a $5,000 award available to only to males in the Political Studies College at the University of Saskatchewan who wish to study at LSE, is the most lucrative undergrad award in the poli-sci program, as well as the only gender-specific scholarship.

As her grades, admittance to LSE, and proposed area of study had all met the award's criteria, Adrusieczko wrote a letter to the awards office at her university to dispute the penis requirement, hoping to find a resolution.

"They conceded that the award was out of date and problematic, and out of step with public interests," she said. "But, they had to go through the legal team to officially change it. So, they said I could file the paperwork, but I wouldn't be considered because of this stipulation."

Gender-based awards aren't uncommon at universities across Canada. A quick search reveals that most universities have gender-designated scholarships and awards of some kind, the majority of which favour women (in 2010, The Globe and Mail reported finding 976 for women only, 192 for men).

The University of Saskatchewan presides over 35 academic undergrad scholarships designated specifically for women. Additionally, along with the Sanderson, the Burnell Men's Wear Bursary and the Sarah Jane Abrey Bursaries are only eligible for male U of S students.

But Is It a Human Rights Violation?

In February, an Ontario judge overruled a deceased doctor's attempt to establish university scholarships exclusively for white, single, heterosexual students, ruling that the stipulations conflict with public policy.

Typically, these kinds of scholarships (that discriminate based on gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.) violate modern human rights policies, unless there is evidence that discrimination for that group still exists. But the conditions of these scholarships isn't so easy to fix.

"The challenge here is that scholarships are often funded by wealthy people, who are almost always near the end of their life, and will be blithely unaware that they can't pick and choose who they want to favour," Ken Norman, a Saskatchewan human rights lawyer, told VICE.

With the Benjamin J. Sanderson Fellowship, as is the case with a majority of scholarships and awards, the terms of the donation is usually based from a donor's will, says Norman. A will must be changed if it's a violation of public policy and if a judge finds the terms to be discriminatory. The judge may then essentially rewrite those terms of the will to keep the intent of the estate but ensure it's non-discriminatory.

In Ontario, the Human Rights Commission has created a special policy for awards and scholarships, reading: "criteria such a race, ancestry, sex [etc] should not be the basis for deciding who get a scholarships, unless particular exceptions apply." Those particularity exceptions are where "differential treatment" and "burdens or disadvantages" are still found.

"If it names something like gender, chances are it's a violation of a human rights code. What's the justification for giving a scholarship for only men?" Norman said. Yet, gender-based awards stick around because the policy isn't quite black and white. Special programs in human rights codes allow for certain provisions to be made when one group is underrepresented or has been historically discriminated against. The growing majority of women in universities might account for the continued existence of male-only scholarships, which, as Morgan explains, is still a violation.

"The only basis for the special programs is to overcome a history of discrimination. There's no other basis. Unless you have evidence that this continues to be a discriminatory institution, there's no case for a special program," he said.

Each province's human rights code has policy prohibiting the discrimination based on sex. Yet, Norman explained that most institutions are unwilling to commit the time and resources to an audit.

"The sad truth is that lots of institutions don't do [reviews] very rigorously. Usually it goes along until someone blows the whistle on them," he said.

Some universities, such as the University of Manitoba and the University of Alberta have been more proactive in reexamining their scholarships, creating policy that ensures new scholarships adhere to their respective human rights codes.

Saskatchewan doesn't have any specific policies to address awards like the Sanderson Fellowship, but the awards office at the U of S claims to monitor the gender balances to ensure fairness in scholarships.

"We're looking to help re-balance women or men in areas in which they are typically underrepresented," Wendy Klingenberg, associate registrar of student awards and finance at the U of S, said. "Once a population in a discipline reaches that 51-52 percent mark and is relatively stable for a few years, then we would consider that education equity requirement to be achieved, and so we would stop."

Klingenberg explained that that a circumstance like Adrusieczko's, where one disputes the parameters of a scholarship, is quite rare. The Sanderson Fellowship has been offered since 1946.

Female-Only Academic Scholarships Also A Point of Contention

According to Statistics Canada, women account for 59 percent of 25-34-year-old Canadians with a university degree, and have been the majority of post-secondary graduates since 1991. Women represent nearly two-thirds of Canadians aged 25-34 with a medical degree, 67 percent in social sciences and law, and 75 percent of education-related degrees.

Conversely, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and computer science [STEM] are only represented with 39 percent of female students. Most universities make it a priority to offer female-only scholarships in STEM fields of study.

"It seems odd to me that there needs to be an award for women in disciplines which they are well-represented. Rather than seeing it as discriminatory, I thought it was a little bit demeaning that women need a special award, as if they couldn't compete on their own merit," Marcel D'Eon, Faculty at the U of S College of Medicine, told VICE.

"I think it's becoming less and less acceptable to define genders. And so making those distinctions, I think, will soon pass away," he said. "I don't know that we'll ever have a level playing field for underrepresented minorities, but I'm not sure those types of targeted scholarships are the way to go."

But some think there is still a place for gender-targeted scholarships. Adrusieczko, who was denied a scholarship based on gender, believes certain female-only scholarships can help foster gender equity in certain disciplines.

"I would object to the idea that looking at admission numbers is a measure of equity—it never tells the whole picture," she said.

"Scholarships should be considering how systemic oppression operates in university. My objection with the Sanderson is that it continues to privilege men in a field where feminist analysis has long been marginalized, and masculine political behaviour is treated as universal."

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