Recent Pew polls show strong LGBT support among Millenials (Americans born in 1981 or after). They favor gay marriage at 64%, and are likely to support inclusivity at even higher rates.
This week, the University of Iowa became the first public college in the nation to ask applicants their sexual orientation, according to USA TODAY.
The university’s admissions officers touted the change as a “welcome mat” to potential students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). The school says the question would be used to gather more information about students in order to better serve them.
Iowa is the second American college to implement the question. The privately administered Elmhurst College did so last year.
“For the first time, a major, public and national research university has taken efforts to identify their LGBT students from the very first moment those students have official contact with them,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director the LGBT advocacy group Campus Pride, in a press statement. “This is definite progress in the right direction — and deserves praise.”
The Common Application, which provides an application accepted by over 400 colleges and universities, considered a similar question last year but decided it was inappropriate.
“Asking a student what their sexual orientation is BEFORE they have been admitted to a college as part of their application process is one thing,” Common Application Executive Director Rob Killion wrote in response to a New York Times article. “Asking a student what their sexual orientation is AFTER they been admitted and sent you an enrollment deposit is (in order to better provide services once they arrive) is quite another matter.”
Not all LGBT students thought the University of Iowa’s move would help create more inclusive cultures.
Tre Easton, Student Government president at Wake Forest University, identifies as gay and has made cultivating gay-friendly culture on Wake’s campus a part of his agenda as president.
After the Princeton Review ranked Wake Forest at number eight on its list of LGBT-unfriendly campuses this year, Easton submitted and helped pass a resolution “affirming inclusivity” on the campus. (Campus Pride had actually given the university a strong rating on its scale: four out of five stars in its LGBT-inclusivity rating.)
Despite his public advocacy, Easton said he was opposed to colleges asking questions about sexual orientation on applications, preferring that schools not be aggressive in labeling students one way or the other. He said he probably wouldn’t have checked the “yes” box if the Wake Forest application had asked for his orientation.
“Four years ago, I had realized I was gay but wasn’t actualizing that part of myself yet,” he said.
Last year, when running for Student Government president, he thought his orientation would have been his biggest liability at the historically Baptist university. However, he said he wasn’t asked about it at all during the course of the campaign, which he won with 60% of the vote.
He said he felt that society would be better off when there was no longer a need to ask such questions of candidates or students.
Alan Scott, a pseudonymous writer for the blog “Queer at Patrick Henry College” was also wary of the question. “At the time I was applying for college, I was not even out to myself yet, and was just starting to realize that I might have same-sex attractions,” he said in an email. “Even later when I had acknowledged my same-sex attractions, I was still very opposed to applying the label ‘gay’ to myself.”
Earlier this month, Scott’s blog attracted ire and even short-lived legal threats from the Evangelical Christian college’s chancellor Michael Farris, who insinuated that the anonymous group’s homosexuality was a breach of the sexual purity element of the school’s honor code.
The bloggers maintain that sexual orientation is separate from sexual action, and by that standard, they have not acted contrary to the code.
“I can very much see how including a question about sexual orientation in a college application could convey a sense of inclusivity and be a welcome addition to the many people that come from supportive, accepting or affirming communities,” Scott wrote. “However, I can also see how such a question could be seen as the college’s attempt to force a certain label onto someone or to impose ‘liberal values,’ and for someone that is still attempting to figure out who they are, is hiding from who they are or has internalized self-hatred because of what they were taught growing up … that could be a very unwelcome addition.”
Recent Pew polls show strong LGBT support among Millenials (Americans born in 1981 or after). They favor gay marriage at 64% and are likely to support inclusivity at even higher rates.
Yet students do not all agree on how best to promote inclusivity.
Kyle Yawn, an aerospace engineering major from Georgia Tech who identifies as straight, said that he supported equal rights but was worried about how the college application question would be perceived.
“I think it’s immoral to use the government to force a morality on other people if there isn’t any physical danger involved,” he said. “However, if I thought the question could be used to hinder my acceptance, I would have reservations about answering it.”
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