Elmhurst College Asks Students to Self-Identify as LGBT


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.

Related Stories:

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>

Photo from andendquote via flickr creative commons


Rin S.
Rin S6 years ago

I think it's good for the LGBT community to have added opportunities, but it could get terribly messy and it could cause students to become more confused and distressed. Many young adults at that age would still be discovering themselves, and I believe that it's a bit too early for them to be officially declaring themselves as LGBT or not. It feels too official and it could put people off.

Joy Jin
Joy Jin6 years ago

i'd be fine with answering it, but if there is any discrimination based on sexual orientation, i'm out.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago

At what risk?

Jane H.
Jane H6 years ago

I think it's ok for the college to do this since it very much ok with the school. Lots of teenagers know if they are LGBT. My own son knew when he was 12.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams6 years ago

I wouldn't answer because I don't really know. I had more than my share of silly school girl crushes on a wide variety of persons of both sexes and both peers and teachers in junior high and high school. In group therapy in my twenties I got accused of being a Lesbian both because I did not have a boy friend and because I took the side of the parents of a girl in the group whose parents disapproved of her boy friend because he made it perfectly clear that he wanted to just shack up with her and had no intention of ever marrying her. I was married to one man for over twenty-five years. Now in my late sixties I am both celibate and not at all interested in sex. So what is my orientation?
Various ethnic groups and various religions have on campus clubs. Maybe the school's best bet would be to encourage a club for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans, bi-curious and allies to meet and discuss issues. The allies refers to those who happen to be heterosexual but wish everybody would just live and let live on this issue as on other issues.

Don Go
Don Go6 years ago

I thought it might be okay for a while, with the "prefer not to answer" thing... but really it's oggling my mind so much because...

Are there scholarships for LGBT/nonLGBT specific individuals?

I mean if there are, I find it almost odd... As much as I support the commmunity, I worry about how straight students may try to make use of it, and bi-curious students will feel trapped by it.

I think it's a better idea to make the doors open to anyone. Perhaps it can be said in a mandatory counseling session, where the student will then hear the options?

Spoorthi B.
Spoorthi BS6 years ago

hi everyone, please sign this petition and help

Rose Daley
Rose D6 years ago

There are many other ways to let students know of services the might be intrested in other tnan this . I'm not sure where their head was a. Weather or not they were just being insensitive or had a different motive, I hope not the latter. But either way this was a bad idea.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

Wrong. Intrusive. None of their business. The student later on, when he/she is comfortable with where he/she is, can hook up with groups/courses/scholarships, whatever. No one knows when this info will come back to haunt him. A bad idea -- and checking "prefer not to answer" does not say cover one either, does not say, "I find you asking me this, intrusive and I resent it."

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.