University applications have long asked students various questions about their identities like sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and religion — figures that schools then publish in diversity reports and use to inform the allocation of campus services. There has never, however, been an assessment of students’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and even the Common Application (which over 414 colleges utilize) rejected adding the questions this past January, citing “evolving cultural norms.” One school is taking initiative: Elmhurst College in Illinois will now invite prospective students to disclose their LGBT identities. Elmhurst’s associate director of Admission, Christine Grenier, thinks it’s the right decision:
GRENIER: In words and action, Elmhurst College stands by our commitment to welcome and affirm all persons with respect to race, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, faith perspective, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression into the full life of the college. Being able to reach out to LGBT students intentionally will allow us to connect to students earlier, help ease the transition to college and provide valuable resources on campus.
It’s surprising that schools have not taken this step before now. More than 170 universities offer resources for offices and staff support for LGBT students. All of these resources were developed without a census of LGBT students on those campuses; in other words, all those universities agreed to fund support in spite of not knowing how many actual students might ultimately benefit from them. This was, of course, the right thing to do, as the campus climate is known to be chilly for the queer community, with consequences for retention and academic success.
A count of these students will provide useful information about how best to deliver resources and could help those resources reach students who might not otherwise seek out support on campus. In addition, students who may identify outside heterosexuality or the gender binary will know as early as the application process that the school they are applying to intends to affirm their identity, whatever it turns out to be. Elmhurst should be applauded for this decision, and hopefully other universities see the value in collecting this information and follow suit.