Colleges mull LGBT status question on applications
Elmhurst College, a private liberal arts college just outside Chicago, is inquiring about applicants’ sexual orientation on its admissions application this year.
Elmhurst is the first college in the nation to ask students, in an optional question, if they consider themselves a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Duke has no current plans to include such a question on its admissions application, Director of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag said, noting that the Common Application debated including a similar question this year but ultimately decided to exclude it.
At Elmhurst, the question is used purely to collect data on an important demographic, Dean of Admission Gary Rold said. It helps the college understand how a specific student group interacts with the college’s resources and academics—information crucial to improving the college experience for all students.
“If gay and lesbian students have struggled, we don’t want them to feel that way at Elmhurst,” he said.
Both the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the University as a whole want Duke to be an unequivocally hospitable environment for all students, Guttentag said. At this time, the inclusion of question regarding students’ sexual orientation, however, may cause more strain on applicants due to their own reading of the question.
“Applicant perception is a major factor in how we think about questions like this,” Guttentag said, adding that although universities may intend to simply gather data, applicants may perceive other intentions.
Rold said inquiry to sexuality identity is similar to that of race, gender and nationality, though noted that the question on Elmhurst’s application is not used to advocate for or against LGBT students.
An LGBT-related question has the ability to promote diversity on college campuses and decrease the invisibility that sometimes corresponds to being part of the LGBT community, openly gay freshman Cameron Mazza said.
“If you think you could benefit from identifying as LGBT, whether you’re out or not, then you have the right and duty to yourself to make that happen,” Mazza said.
Blue Devils United President Ari Bar-Mashiah, a senior, said students who embrace their LGBT affiliations on their college applications prove that they are relatively confident and comfortable with themselves even in the face of adversity.
“If students are out and comfortable, sexual identity is something they should definitely highlight on their application,” Bar-Mashiah said. “It sets them apart from other applicants, not just by sexual identity but by passion and drive. A student leading with their passions is more important than sexual identity.”
The data-taking purpose of this question, however, may not be able to be fulfilled due to the nature of coming out, Mazza said, adding that he did not feel comfortable exposing this identity to the parties reading his application when he applied to Duke.
“Given that being LGBT is one of the hardest things in a teenager’s life, and given that some teenagers don’t come from the most accepting communities, it is near impossible to ensure that an accurate demographic is represented,” he said.
Guttentag noted that the present climate of LGBT issues may be too sensitive to include the question in this year’s application.
“Issues of sexual orientation and self-identification and sharing those right now in our culture are complex and fluid,” Guttentag said. “These may change in coming years, and it’s certainly something we will watch carefully. As we review the application every year, we want to make it easier for a student to feel comfortable sharing that with us if they want. At the same time, I don’t want anybody to feel compelled to do so—finding the right balance is difficult.”