Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=189864
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Blake Williams/MEDILL

Most college applicants may soon find a question asking them to identify their LGBT status. 


College application LGBT question might move from a one-school anomaly to an every school standard

by Blake Williams
Oct 05, 2011


Next fall, Elmhurst College freshmen will step on campus as the country’s first students to have been asked to identify as members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered community on their admission application.

They likely will not be the last.

“My prediction would be that at some point this will be a fairly common and fairly standard question on many applications,” said Paul Steenis, dean of admissions at Knox College in Galesburg.

Until “some point” comes, schools are being careful when discussing the item.

“I think there are merits to both sides of that equation,” said Tony Bankston, dean of admissions at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. “It’s not really an active discussion right now, primarily because we are a Common Application member.”

Common Application is an association of more than 400 United States colleges and unversities, according to its website. The organization produces applications each year that members use in conjunction with or in place of their own.

The group voted in the spring not to include the LGBT question on applications but will continue to consider it, said Steenis, who attends Common Application meetings annually.

Some schools are concerned that answering the LBGT question could make applicants uneasy.

Students may feel that answering a certain way could affect their admittance, Bankston said, and although the question is optional, some may feel obligated to answer it because it is on the form.

Now that Elmhurst has become the first school to ask, others may wait to see results before becoming the next.

“I was just at a national conference, and I did have some schools come up and ask me about the item, usually in a neutral way, to find out what we think we’ll learn from it without them making a commitment,” said Gary Rold, Elmhurst dean of admissions.

Rold, who declined to identify schools that approached Elmhurst, said his advice was to consider their campus makeup before inserting it.

“I was talking to a representative of a very progressive campus [in Oregon] with a large population of gay and lesbian students already enrolled there,” he said. “Their stance on it is, ‘We don’t need to ask that question because we are already identified as a very progressive campus.’ Well, that’s the right solution for them.”

Some institutions may not add the question in favor of gathering LGBT data from other areas of the application.

“You have the essay [and] so many high schools have some type of alliance or other types of LGBT student organization, so the students are often identifying those among their list of activities,” Steenis said. “So we really do have a lot of information in the application already where students are self-identifying.”

Marilee Lindemann, University of Maryland LGBT studies program director, acknowledged that it may be difficult for some schools to take the plunge.

“I think that people have been waiting for one institution to jump,” she said. “Now that Elmhurst has done it, it becomes something that an institution can do.”