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Peer schools initiate LGBT outreach

Participants march near East Campus in the annual N.C. Pride Festival and Parade last Fall. Two of Duke’s peer institutions are using admissions-based outreach efforts to bolster their LGBT communities.
Participants march near East Campus in the annual N.C. Pride Festival and Parade last Fall. Two of Duke’s peer institutions are using admissions-based outreach efforts to bolster their LGBT communities.

In an attempt to increase diversity on their campuses, The University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College are extending recruitment outreach efforts to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Duke currently does not have a formal system in place for identifying admitted LGBT students through its Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag said he supports Penn’s efforts. He noted that they are an important step in making a college campus welcoming to every community.

“Diversity isn’t just a nice word or something you create by seeing what categories someone may fit into,” Guttentag wrote in an e-mail. “Its meaning on a college campus lies in bringing together students, faculty and administrators with different backgrounds, interests, values and experiences, and just as culture, ethnicity and geography are appropriate parts of that mix, so is sexual orientation.”

As a standard part of recruitment, outreach allows current students to share academic and social interests with prospective students who have similar backgrounds. Although it is common practice for outreach efforts to target specific religious denominations, races and extracurricular interests, universities typically do not have programs geared toward individuals who identify as gay or interested in LGBT issues.

Beginning this year, Penn’s LGBT Center can contact applicants for undergraduate admission who self-identify as part of the LGBT community or who have indicated that gay advocacy is important as they make their college decisions. Penn’s center can then inform those applicants of the programs and services that are available to them at the university, according to a Feb. 26 Inside Higher Ed article, which also notes that a similar process exists at Dartmouth College.

Guttentag said Duke’s office might err too much on the careful side due to ever-changing attitudes about the issue.

“I also believe we’ve been too cautious in thinking of good ways to respond to that and in realizing that some of us who went to high school a while ago aren’t fully aware of how much attitudes have changed among many teenagers, and adults, in the last decade or so,” Guttentag said.

Although the University does not identify LGBT students through its admissions process, Duke LGBT Center Director Janie Long wrote in an e-mail that the center does have an active presence in Blue Devil Days. It also maintains a prospective student page on its Web site and has a liaison in the admissions office who communicates specifically with students if they have questions concerning gay issues.

In addition, Long and LGBT Center staff members attend recruiting trips to inform students about the center and its work.

Sophomore Ollie Wilson, a member of Blue Devils United, said he approves of Penn and Duke’s individual recruitment efforts. But he said extending outreach effectively could be difficult because of the private nature of applicants still forming their identities.

“Since options for sexual orientation aren’t check boxes on college application forms, the only real way to do outreach would be to contact those students,” Wilson said. “The outreach process would have to be very tactful and careful with which students they contact.”

The admissions staff treats a student’s application as confidential because some students share facts that their families are not aware of, Guttentag said. He noted that the University’s cautious approach toward reaching out to LGBT prospective students reflects this reality.  

Still, Wilson said he thinks that Duke needs to follow in Penn’s active footsteps if it wants to provide an open and approachable atmosphere to prospective students.

“The LGBT community has historically been an underrepresented and marginalized group on many college campuses,” Wilson said. “Any effort to promote it and attract more members of that community to our campus is extremely important. It would send a clear message to prospective students that Duke is a welcoming environment with many resources available to LGBT students.”

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