When I first read the news that Elmhurst College in Illinois is including an item on their entrance application asking students to self identify as LGBT, my back went up. I am such a strong supporter of all things LGBT, and yet I am not so sure about this one.
I can see that the administrators want to ensure a welcoming and inclusive environment, but asking an eighteen-year-old to permanently identify his or her sexual orientation is not, perhaps, the best way to accomplish this. Some already have figured it out, but many students in this age group of are still working on it.
Administrators say it is a way to hook students up with services and scholarships that they might otherwise miss.
“We ask a lot of questions in admissions, so we thought, why not ask about this too?” Gary Rold, Elmhurst’s dean of admission, told the Chronicle of Higher Eduation in an article about this decision. “We are trying to recruit students who are academically qualified and diverse, and we consider this another form of diversity.”
In all fairness, the approach is very sensitive and asks for self-identification only. It will appear on the application form for the 2012-2013 academic year. It will read, “Would you consider yourself to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?” Applicants may choose “yes,” “no,” or “prefer not to answer.”
I think their hearts are in the right place.
I know that the people who administer the Common Application have also considered this to be a potential check box, and yet have decided against it. They have left the door open for it in the future.
Here is what i know as a professional who works with adolescents and early adults: sexual behavior and exploration is normal as a teenager and into early adulthood. There are terms illustrating this in women: LUG (Lesbian Until Graduation) and in both genders — BUG (Bisexual Until Graduation). I also know that there are many many students who use college to “Come Out” and still more who do not feel as if they can when mom and pop are paying the bills. Those who can come out will, and those who can’t may feel more oppressed.
Campus Pride, an LGBT advocacy group focused on higher education, praised Elmhurst’s move, arguing that standardizing the question would create a sort of “defanging” of it, and allowing for greater awareness. I hope they are right, but this opinion is based on students who are open enough to be a part of Campus Pride.
Here is some of my noodling around this: What if a student discovers after exploring that the Bi and/or Gay/Lesbian life is not for him or her (It does happen – trust me), will she or he have to give scholarship money back? Are there scholarships for straight students specifically? Will the college turn away students who are not ready to come out yet because of this question? Can’t the college give out the information in Welcome Day packets like some other colleges do, instead of targeting or singling out students?
I am on the fence about this approach. I can see how it can backfire, and I can see how it can be a good thing. I think this is a a question that more and more colleges will have to begin conversations about, as more and more (I hope) acceptance comes around this issue.
Indeed, more and more campuses are aware and creating safe environments for their students who do identify as LGBT. The Campus Climate Index lists nearly 300 publicly available campus climate reports online at www.campusclimateindex.org. The nationally-praised Index takes an in-depth look at LGBT-friendly policies, programs and practices. This year, there are 33 campus who got the highest rankings, twice as many as last year, and still a very poor showing given the amount of college campuses we have in this country.
It may be that Elmhurst is ahead of its time, and it may be that it is just what we need to lead the country in college awareness and acceptance.
Photo from andendquote via flickr creative commons