When I narrowed down the list of universities to which I would apply, admittedly the factors I considered were arbitrary. Since I had not yet come to terms with my gay identity, not even in the back of my mind had I considered Duke’s LGBTQ climate. If I were “out” when I filled out my college applications, as a Californian I likely would not have even considered Duke, given the stereotypes I held about the South.
I came out just weeks prior to visiting campus during Blue Devil Days, so I was naturally very eager to inquire about Duke’s LGBTQ community. I was immediately sold on enrolling after speaking with current LGBTQ students. Now, three semesters into my college experience, Duke has exceeded my expectations as an LGBTQ student, and I have capitalized on so many opportunities. Notably, I’ve spent the last few semesters on the executive board of Blue Devils United. In the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, I’ve attended several discussion groups, made all kinds of new friends and even taken a course on LGBTQ clinical psychology. My roommate and I comprise one of the few gender-neutral housing units on West Campus. Duke even sent me and three other students to Houston this month for Creating Change, the largest annual LGBTQ conference—all expenses paid. On an institutional level, Duke truly offers a lot to its LGBTQ students.
That being said, Duke fails to recruit many top-notch students to apply, attend and take advantage of the innumerable possibilities for LGBTQ students to thrive. I look forward to the day when Duke can successfully profile these opportunities to students who might ordinarily and, under false premises, write us off simply because of our geographical location.
The addition of an optional LGBTQ identity question to next year’s application for undergraduate admission holds the power to dramatically alter the landscape of LGBTQ life at Duke for years to come, starting with the Class of 2019. Elmhurst College, the University of Iowa and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have all adopted this policy as a means of more effectively monitoring rates of admission, yield and retention of their LGBTQ applicants and students, a practice the Office of Undergraduate Admissions certainly takes seriously in regards to Duke’s black and Latino applicants and students.
The potential impact of the addition of such a question, however, stretches far beyond my community. An appropriately phrased LGBTQ demographics question can play a tremendous role in Duke’s efforts to assert itself as a progressive institution. Because of Duke’s location and misperceptions about Durham’s political climate, the University suffers a unique burden, losing admitted students to peer institutions north and west of here. This assertion will, in hand, reaffirm the institutional norms that LGBTQ people are celebrated here, thus attracting applicants like me who might ordinarily have written off Duke prior to even applying. In such a cycle, Duke will draw applications from and enroll more allies and members of the LGBTQ community, who will in turn set the bar higher for acceptance of LGBTQ individuals going forward.
Furthermore, a large double standard exists at the root of the exclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity from the admission process at Duke. Namely, the University’s non-discrimination policy lists identities protected from discrimination: “race, color, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, genetic information or age”. Interestingly enough, demographic information is collected for all of these identities on the application for undergraduate admission, except for sexual orientation, gender identity and—for legal reasons—disability status. In order for Duke to fulfill its mission of protecting members of the LGBTQ community, the University must begin to treat sexual orientation and gender identity as pieces of information no less relevant than the other demographic factors cited in the non-discrimination policy.
For these reasons, it is crucial for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to add an optional LGBTQ identity question to next year’s application for undergraduate admission. The addition of this question will serve to facilitate early and accurate communication of available resources to students who choose to self-identify, while simultaneously reaffirming Duke’s character as a progressive institution. Perhaps then, Duke will ultimately seal the deal in permanently closing the gap of the college admissions game with our elite peers.
Daniel Kort is a Trinity sophomore and the president of Blue Devils United.