A student at the University of Waterloo says she was told to collect statistics on racial demographics at her school by herself if she wanted to develop services for visible minorities on campus.
Fiqir Worku, third-year health studies student at Waterloo and the vice-president of the campus’ Black Association for Student Expression approached her university’s equity centre earlier this month to discuss developing services for racialized minorities on campus. Worku, 21, says she told by the school’s former equity director Mahajabeen Ebrahim, that in order to move forward she had to collect statistics on the school’s 34,325 full time students by herself.
“It’s unfortunate that as students we’re expected to prove the need for a racialized service when even the Ontario government has invested substantial funds in support of black Ontario youth,” Worku told VICE.
Waterloo is one of the many Canadian universities that doesn’t collect statistics on the race and ethnicities of their student population. Matthew Grant, Waterloo’s director of media relations told VICE "Waterloo does not collect information about our students’ races or ethnic backgrounds since it is not necessary in the decision as to admission and we would not want anyone to think that it is part of that decision process." (He also points out student can voluntarily identify themselves as a racialized minority on their website.)
In many Canadian universities, racialized student collectives are groups that run under student unions and receive funding from them. And many administrations, like McGill, University of Toronto and Queen’s also have a department under their equity centre to help minority students with their life on campus. Worku’s organization, Black Association for Student Expression, only receives $75 in funding from their student union.
“We do not have the resources or training to address certain adversities that our members have been through,” said Worku.
In March 2016, a racial slur was spray painted on a house near campus. Worku says she had to redirect students to the diversity and equity office at Wilfred Laurier, a nearby university, to receive more “specialized services.” Worku says she’s been making attempts to sit down with the university for two years now to develop the administration’s equity centre.
“One email took the university a full semester to respond to.”
According to Statistic Canada’s 2016 census, 26.4 per ent of the city of Waterloo’s population is made up of visible minorities.
Renu Mandhane, the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission told CBC in May 2017 that universities need to know the demographics of their student body in order to “track the effectiveness” of their diversity programs.
"If you want to really serve the population, I think you first need to know who's in your student body and not just at an eyeballing it sort of way, actually understanding in a much more discrete way.”
Grant says the university recently created an “associate vice-president of human rights, equity and inclusion” position to address the issue.
There is currently no one directing the equity centre at the university and the former equity director’s official statements and contact information have been taken off Waterloo’s website.
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