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Harvard May Ask Applicants About LGBT Identity

Harvard May Ask Applicants About LGBT Identity

 

Harvard University has said that in order to better understand its students and match them with applicable resources it may start asking applicants if they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

This admissions form question would be optional and the university, which has been flooded with early admissions requests this year, is keen to stress that information about sexual orientation or gender identity will play no part in the admissions decision-making process. Rather, Harvard hopes the question would communicate that the university embraces a diverse student body and that it is keen to meet its students’ needs.

From the Advocate:

Harvard University announced Wednesday that it may add language to its admission application that would allow prospective students to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, according toThe Harvard Crimson.

The admissions office is currently working on the wording of the potential question, and the staff intends to meet with student groups in the coming months to solicit feedback. “I think this campus is really welcoming to all students and that’s the signal we want to send,” dean of admissions and financial aid William R. Fitzsimmons told the Crimson.

A student identifying as LGBT would not function as a positive “tip” in the the application process. Fitzsimmons said the move is intended to be more of a welcoming signal to “students who are grappling with the issue of [sexual orientation] or gender identity.” Students may also be asked to write an optional essay to express their personal stories and experiences.

The final decision on adding this question will not be made until February of next year, but writers over at the Harvard Crimson appear in favor of the move citing that it would do well to answer for Harvard’s history and allay any fears LGBT students might have about applying. However, they would also like to see careful thought given to how the question is phrased so as to best show the diversity of identity and avoid narrow labels:

It should be no secret that queer students are enthusiastically embraced at Harvard and have held top leadership positions in cultural groups, the Harvard College Democrats, and the Harvard Republican Club. The University covers a variety of medical options for transgender students and employees, has appointed openly gay housemasters, and recently opened a BGLTQ student resource center. Those of us on the inside know that Harvard is queer friendly, but prospective applicants often lack the same insights. The proposed question on the Harvard supplement would highlight that the University embraces queer students from day one.

However, we must be mindful that the way the question is phrased is just as important as whether the question exists at all. Less than 100 years ago, Harvard initiated a veritable witch-hunt to purge its halls of queer students. Fears of that prejudice persist to this day, and any solicitation of information regarding the sexual orientation or gender identity of prospective students must be clear about the information not being used against the students in any way. Additionally, it is important to remember that prospective applicants may have wide-ranging sexual and gender identities and to be willing to accommodate them.

As previously mentioned on Care2, Chicago’s Elmhurst College, a liberal arts facility, is believed to be the first college to ask applicants the optional question on its application form.

The merits of this and similar admissions questions have been debated quite widely and not all to positive effect.

Some concern has been raised, for instance, that students who were not yet sure of their own identity may feel pressured to choose for the sake of the form an identity marker that they will later find does not match who they truly are, perhaps even later causing them some emotional distress.

Other voices have been more positive over the issue in saying that so long as the question is not used as part of admissions criteria it should in fact be a standard question on admissions forms, in the same way that other elective information is gathered, because it would help university officials better understand students’ life experiences.

Related Reading:

University’s Gay Friendly Church List Riles Professor

Report: It’s Still Risky To Come Out At Work

Secretary for Education to Schools: You Must Allow Gay-Straight Alliances

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Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to andendquote.

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18 comments

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9:45AM PST on Nov 26, 2011

who's business if any, what your sexual prefernce is? Are they going to band them together and put them in the same classes and dorms?

6:22PM PST on Nov 25, 2011

I think that the intention is good but there needs to more acceptance in society before such policies are enacted

5:30PM PST on Nov 23, 2011

Intentions may be good, but I also fear that this information can fall into the wrong hands and be used against LGBT people. Leave it as an optional choice. Even better, rather than asking about a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, simply ensure all students have access to supportive clubs and LGBT-positive counseling if desired. Make sure LGBT students can find adequate information on support services and systems for all LGBT people.

1:41PM PST on Nov 23, 2011

This is going to go over badly.

11:57AM PST on Nov 23, 2011

I guess they have good intentions, but it's really none of their business, is it?

11:22AM PST on Nov 23, 2011

Before I judge this I was wondering if they'd share how well this plan worked when they tested it on their staff? Riiiiight.

I have to say that I am constantly amazed when organizations one expects to know better jump in at the shallow end without a thought for the consequences. That suggests I may be the problem in the equation as the "stuff" that amazes me just keeps on comin'.

9:35AM PST on Nov 23, 2011

It could also give people with prejudices a chance to reject the applicants. I think the question itself is showing Prejudice. All students should be treated equally.

7:00AM PST on Nov 23, 2011

I hope they are also asking for heterosexual and asexual to "self-identify". Perhaps a better way would be to ask if they have any preferences or problems with specific roomates...maybe that way they wouldnt have to come out but they could still state their roommate preferences.

But, I have never understood why someone's sexual preferences are my business or the basis for any judgment on my part. We are who we are and I, personally, dont give a fig who you sleep with, just be happy, do not abuse and treat me fairly...we'll get along just fine.

6:22AM PST on Nov 23, 2011

making it known that an institution is non-discriminatory should be enough. Asking students to self disclose in a specific manner and in writing leads to possible issues around privacy.After the suicide of a student whose roomate filmed him having a romantic encounter and posted it on the web, it's as important or more important to clearly elucidate policy to deal with student body conduct towards marginalized groups. The reality is that these schools also admit homophobes, racists, elitists of all sorts. Do they have to check off a box and self identify ?Do they get steered towards resources to help them recognize and respect parameters of behavior that balance their right to "think what they want " with the equally important rights of the people that they think poorly of?
At the end of the day, this feels like the "kubyah" approach as opposed to a head on address to the history and reality of homophobia and bigotry.

5:52AM PST on Nov 23, 2011

So long as it remains OPTIONAL, I see no problem with this...

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