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Women and sexual minority students more likely to experience discrimination

Released: 2020-09-15

In 2019, almost half (47%) of students at Canadian postsecondary schools witnessed or experienced discrimination based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation in a postsecondary setting.

Witnessing or experiencing these discriminatory behaviours—which occurred on campus, off campus or online situation and which involved students or other people associated with the school—was more common for students who identify as women (52%) than those who identify as men (42%).

In addition to making people feel uncomfortable, disrespected and unsafe, discrimination in the postsecondary environment can create barriers that hinder student success. The Juristat Bulletin—Quick Fact article titled "Students' experiences of discrimination based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation at postsecondary schools in the Canadian provinces, 2019" provides an overview of discriminatory behaviours in the postsecondary setting and the impacts they have on students. This article is based on results from the Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population, conducted in 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a considerable impact on the postsecondary setting. For instance, there has been a general shift from in-person teaching to online learning at many schools. Readers should note that while these data predate the pandemic, they provide important insight for postsecondary schools on how to better prevent and address discriminatory behaviours experienced by students at their institutions.

Discrimination in the postsecondary setting more common for women, sexual minority students

Among students, women were more likely than men to have personally experienced discrimination based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation in a postsecondary setting. This was the case for one in five (20%) women, compared with just under one in eight (13%) men. Women were also significantly more likely than men to have experienced all but one of the types of discrimination measured by the survey.

Discrimination based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation was most common among students who indicated that they were a sexual minority—that is, lesbian or gay; bisexual; or another sexual orientation not elsewhere classified, such as pansexual or asexual. Approximately one-third of gay and lesbian students (31%), bisexual students (34%), and students who reported a sexual orientation not elsewhere classified (34%) reported having experienced this type of discrimination. These rates were double that of heterosexual students (15%).

Half of women who experienced discrimination in a postsecondary setting said it took place in an in-person learning environment

Women students were more likely than men students to have experienced discrimination based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation in two specific in-person locations. First, just over half (52%) of women who had experienced this type of discrimination on campus said that it had happened in a location such as a lecture hall or lab, compared with 43% of men. Second, a considerably larger proportion of women (14%) than men (8%) who had experienced discrimination off campus said that it had happened during an internship, volunteer assignment, or other type of paid or unpaid employment related to their studies.

Overall, less than one in five students who had experienced discrimination based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation said that it had occurred in an online environment (15% of women and 18% of men). It should be noted, however, that the survey did not limit the online environment to school-controlled platforms (e.g., tutorials, bulletin boards, course sites), but it also included external platforms (e.g., personal email, text messages, social media) if some or all of those responsible for the discrimination were associated with the school.

Almost three-quarters of women (72%) and men (73%) who experienced discrimination based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation said that the perpetrator was a fellow student in at least one incident they experienced. Women (12%) were more likely than men (7%) to report that people in positions of authority—such as professors, coaches or supervisors—were the perpetrators of the discrimination.


  Note to readers

The Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population (SISPSP) collects information on sexual assault, sexualized behaviours and discrimination based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation from students aged 18 to 24 (17 to 24 in Quebec) attending a public or private postsecondary school, college, CEGEP or university in the Canadian provinces (or who attended such an institution in the 12 months preceding the survey). The categories "women" and "men" include cisgender and transgender women and men. Some analysis specific to transgender students is included in the Juristat Bulletin—Quick Fact article.

For information on the methodology of the survey, see Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population.

The survey defines "postsecondary setting" as including

  • campus
  • travel to or from school
  • off-campus events organized or endorsed by the postsecondary school, including official sporting events
  • unofficial activities or social events organized by students, instructors or professors, either on or off campus
  • employment at the school
  • co-op or work term placements organized by the school
  • behaviours that occurred online where some or all of the people responsible were students, teachers or other people associated with the school.

The survey collected information on the following discriminatory behaviours based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation:

  • suggestions that a man does not act like a man is supposed to act
  • suggestions that a woman does not act like a woman is supposed to act
  • someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded because of their gender
  • comments that someone is not good at or should be prevented from being in a particular program because of their gender
  • someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded because of their sexual orientation or assumed sexual orientation
  • someone being insulted, mistreated, ignored or excluded because they are, or are assumed to be, transgender.

The development and collection of the SISPSP and the analysis of its results were funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada.

Products

The article "Students' experiences of discrimination based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation at postsecondary schools in the Canadian provinces, 2019" is now available as part of the publication Juristat Bulletin—Quick Fact (Catalogue number85-005-X).

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; STATCAN.infostats-infostats.STATCAN@canada.ca) or Media Relations (613-951-4636; STATCAN.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.STATCAN@canada.ca).

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