University an Anchor for Brampton Youth

Ryerson University - Toronto

By now, every Bramptonian has heard the news: Ryerson University has submitted a proposal to partner with Sheridan College to build a new university in Brampton and, by every measure, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

The excitement is very real. This result, the culmination of years of effort and lobbying, is a dream come true for our city. Bringing a university to Brampton is a new stepping stone to making our community complete. In other great cities, a university is an important component of what makes a city “world-class”, and this announcement means that youth will have one more reason to love Brampton.

However, for some, the news has disappointed and has been met with groaning over the points that Brampton attracted only one suitor, and that it is not the suitor they believed that was best for Brampton.

It reminds of those experiences during gym class: two captains picking teams for sports, a process that always felt more like a popularity contest than a wise recruitment of those who genuinely played well, with the last player left standing, labeled an unpopular pick. Listening to reactions to Ryerson-Sheridan’s partnership for Brampton’s incoming university felt a lot like what went through everyone’s head in those moments.

“Why didn’t the University of Toronto want us?”

“Only ONE applicant? Well that’s Brampton for you.”

“Why no elite schools with a history in Ontario?”

Yes, there was only one applicant, but that shouldn’t be the main story! That would suggest the story is about Brampton’s worthiness in the eyes of Canada’s elite schools, and that would be wrong. The real story is that Ryerson wants to build in Brampton, and that it will have an impact on our city.

Why Ryerson being in Brampton matters.

Last year, the Blue Ribbon Panel, a group led by Brampton resident, advocate and former Ontario Premier, Bill Davis, commissioned an economic impact study from consulting firm Urban Metric Inc. One of their more important findings was that communities without post-secondary institutions experience a “brain drain” because their finest minds leave to pursue studies elsewhere.

In this context, brain-drain refers to highly intelligent or highly trained individuals leaving a municipality or region because there’s nothing there to support their pursuit of higher education or continued use of it. Toronto has a reputation of being a destination city for those minds– Why not Brampton? When you lose your brightest minds, you also lose economic potential and eventually see population decline, making it harder to argue for a greater share of Provincial resources.

“If the Brampton campus were built sooner I would’ve gone there without hesitation.” said Colleen McCreery, a Humber graduate, now dividing her time between Brampton and Barrie. She would have enrolled at the Ryerson-Sheridan campus, “regardless of reputation”.

What would you do with an extra 12 days per year?

In addition to the economic impact the announcement brings with it, there’s a significant impact to student residents in Brampton; Education just became more accessible to those who were limited by the costs of transportation or living away from home.

The time it takes for students to travel to distant campuses (1-2 hours each way) is the same amount of time it would take to complete an assignment or reading. For students, that small amount of time allows for a better quality of life, and can literally add up to 12 days of extra time each year. It means they can work, volunteer, or engage in campus activities, which allow for an improved balance in their academic lives.

When asked what that extra time would mean for her if she were a student with the option of attending Ryerson-Sheridan, McCreery says, “l would study with that extra time! I usually studied during my commute, but this would have been easier.”

Christopher Karas, a student at Humber college, welcomes the addition of a university to Brampton: “I would spend that time learning more social skills. I am autistic, so it’s sometimes difficult to decode communication. For me, this would impact my quality of life.”

Diversity and Inclusion Shifts

Post-secondary institutions also bring cultures of inclusion that are usually set to the tune of high national and international standards. This means that there will be leads taken with issues like gender neutral washrooms, accessibility for persons with disabilities, Indigenous inclusion, and can provide access to self-determined spaces for people of colour so that they can feel safe in their community. These are not new concepts provincially, but they do account for why some young people have left Brampton after graduating.

While speaking about his autism, Karas also spoke of his desire to move, “When I graduate, I want to move out of Brampton. I often feel that Brampton doesn’t include and isn’t safe for LGBTQ+ folks. A lot of carding and racial profiling took place here in the past, too. The Social Justice culture may lead to more community education in Peel.”

An “anchor” in the community.

Ryerson building in Brampton means that there’s an anchor keeping diversity and inclusion at the forefront and it means that businesses in the surrounding area must keep pace with that as well. It certainly won’t save us from our issues, but it will create a less insular environment for them to operate within.

“Brampton is a very diverse city and is ever growing. I think having safe spaces and having staff that are supportive to those communities will help promote positivity in the area around the college and university,” said McCreery.

Highly intelligent and skilled people don’t all come from the same background, race, orientation or creed, so it makes sense that this kind of diversity would make them want to stay in Brampton. We see that impact in small amounts from the Sheridan campus punctuating the border between Mississauga and Brampton, but the next phase of growth must include greater investment in spaces that are accessible and equitable for everyone based more on lived experiences than theory.

What’s next?

Last October, Charles Sousa, the Ontario Minister of Finance, was in Brampton and announced that the Province would provide $180 million in funding to build two new universities, one in Milton, and the other in Brampton. You can watch a special episode of Brampton Focus that details the university announcement and provides answers to many of your questions, thanks to a detailed discussion with Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey.

We are waiting for details on where the university will be located. Once that is decided, understanding the construction’s impact to infrastructure and preparing the community around the chosen location will be the next step.

Be sure to watch Brampton Focus on Rogers TV to catch the latest updates and interviews as this project continues to unfold.


Editors note: The author is not an affiliate of either Ryerson University or Sheridan College and attended a different university in Ontario.

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