As part of McGill’s continued commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), the University has released its first-ever Student Demographic Survey. The survey responds to the call for demographic data made in both the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan and the Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism.
“By better understanding who our students are, we are better able to anticipate and meet their needs,” says Gillian Nycum, Registrar and Executive Director, Enrolment Services. “The data helps us think critically about our strategic enrollment plan in light of our goals around equity, diversity and inclusion and the way our student body actually looks. It will be an important tool for understanding, and then addressing, issues of underrepresentation.”
The preliminary survey data, based on 10 months of collection, went to McGill Senate for information on May 12.
The Registrar’s office developed the survey in collaboration with the Equity Team in the office of the Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies). They held consultations with student groups and administrative units across the University.
The survey went live on Minerva in September 2020. It captures how students self-identify in 11 categories:
- gender and gender identity
- sexual orientation
- racial/ethnic identity
- education level of parent/guardian
- financial support for tuition and living expenses
- youth in care (i.e., has a student been in the care of a provincial/state authority for a period of six months or more)
- student caregivers
- refugee status
- language proficiency
All the collected data is anonymized and confidential. “There is a very, very limited set of analysts who have access to the identifying information,” says Nycum, “and it’s only reported in aggregate, with a minimum group size of five respondents, to safeguard against identification of individual students. I don’t ever see the identifying information, and neither does anyone else within or outside the University.”
Although all the questions are mandatory, students have the option of choosing “I prefer not to answer” to any question.
An important first step
The data currently reflects a 24.4 per cent response rate across McGill’s student body. The survey is linked to the Academic Integrity Tutorial (AIT) module, and is also available through the Minerva “Student” menu. Because of the link with the AIT, new and undergraduate students are overrepresented in the initial round of data.
“But the survey is going to continue year after year,” says Nycum. “So after several years of incoming students completing the survey with the Academic Integrity Tutorial, we expect a more representative response rate across the student body.”
Next month, the survey will be revised to integrate feedback from the community. For example, students will be allowed to select more than one response in the “gender and gender identity” section. A question about religious/spiritual identity will also be added.
Students who have already completed the survey can update their responses through Minerva at any time. “They’ll always have that option,” says Nycum. “So if there’s been some kind of change, or there was a question that they preferred to not answer before but want to answer now, they can go into the survey on Minerva and do that.”
“We’ll report on the data at a consistent, comparable point in time every two years for the Senate report.”
The Student Demographic Survey adopts categories from Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census and is designed to align, as much as possible, with McGill’s Employment Equity Survey. The University also published its latest Biennial Employment Equity Survey this month.