Campus ghost people
The questionnaire is set to open to students in the coming weeks. Photo: Rame Abdulkader/The Fulcrum
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Users can anonymously self-identify gender, Indigeneity, racialization, disability, LGBTQIA2S+ preference, and language

The University of Ottawa has launched an online questionnaire where students, faculty, and staff can anonymously self-identify in terms of gender, Indigeneity, racialization, accommodation and disability, LGBTQIA2S+ preference, preferred language, and language proficiency. The collected data will be used to analyze and measure the school’s diversity and equity efforts.

Faculty and staff can now access the questionnaire through the VirtuO portal, while students will be able to access the system through uOZone in the coming weeks. 

The questionnaire — and the potential power of the data it gathers — is the brainchild of the advisory committee on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) to U of O president Jacques Frémont, launched back in 2016.

Steffany Bennett, a professor in the department of biochemistry, microbiology and immunology, is spearheading the program as the special adviser to the president on EDI. 

“I truly believe that this concerted effort to embed the best practices of EDI will make an amazing difference at the U of O,” said Bennett. “It will fundamentally change our perception of ourselves and our perception of everyone around us and really make us into a high-performing unit.”

Bennett said the plan is to eventually launch an interactive dashboard available to all of the U of O community, where users can input data from the anonymous questionnaire and different variables to generate graphs to visualize trends.

The U of O’s Human Rights Office will be responsible for the confidentiality of the data and only disaggregated, anonymous data will be available to the university community, Bennett said. 

“Eventually, all folks at the U of O will be able to look at disaggregated, anonymous data on how fast, for example, a given self-identified sub-population graduates, or moves from assistant to associate professor, or gets promoted,” said Bennett. 

“That data allows us to see what the challenges and opportunities each self-identified group faces and the different privileges that may or may not be afforded to individual groups.” 

In the meantime though, Bennett is in the process of establishing a self-assessment team, made up of appointed staff and faculty and elected students, who will develop areas to analyze or questions to answer using data, getting the first bit of insight into what the data says.  

Photo: Rame Abdulkader/The Fulcrum

The launch of the initiative comes at a time when many in the campus community have been calling on the U of O to begin collecting race-based data after two Black students were carded on campus last year. 

Those demands were echoed in a recommendation from the recently released results of an independent investigation into campus security policies and their impact on racialized peoples, launched by the school after the June 2019 carding and handcuffing incident

“We’ve really been listening to the student population on this because we don’t have the data on who we really are at the U of O,” said Bennett. 

The project is supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada pilot program, which involves 16 other Canadian post-secondary institutions who are also collecting and analyzing EDI data.

Schools will be awarded gold, silver or bronze medals based on their EDI initiatives. In turn, the success of those EDI initiatives will dictate an institution’s ability to access additional research and teaching funding, said Bennett. 

For every completed questionnaire, the administration has pledged to donate $1 to a scholarship fund for U of O students tying EDI into their academic and research projects.

Bennett said there is one potential barrier to the success of the project: a lack of participation from the community. 

“We’ve got to get everyone else on board to want to do this,” said Bennett. “It won’t change anything if we don’t do it all together, and it will change everything if we do.”