The Question of Identity

March 24, 2017

 

I read something recently in which an Indigenous person indicated their resentment at being asked to self-identify as such. I must admit that this comment surprised me. I had not considered that the data gathered by self-identifying might be used to further discriminate. Realistically speaking, I do acknowledge that this is always a possibility. However, in the end, I agree with the perspective of many human rights advocates in this instance, specifically that collecting data on ethnicity is often a means of "uncovering inequality and better understanding the needs of racialized groups."

 

While most post-secondary institutions in Canada do not currently ask students to self-identify as belonging to any particular group, a recent report by the CBC suggests that many are exploring the potential benefits of gathering such data. As Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission noted "If you want to really serve the population, I think you first need to know who's in your student body." She continues that it is not just students who can benefit from sharing this data, but post-secondary institutions can also monitor their own effectiveness as they serve an increasingly diverse student population.

 

The need to understand our population has always informed the legislation governing the gathering of census data. If governing bodies are to develop programs and services to best serve all of their citizens, then they must know who those citizens are. If Canadians approach their own institutions from a position of distrust, with an "us versus them" perspective that determines to use yesterday's brush to paint our todays and our tomorrows, then all Canadians lose in that we are prevented from moving forward as a united people committed to reconciliation. 

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