Last summer, Elmhurst College—a small liberal-arts school in Illinois affiliated with the United Church of Christ—mead headlines when it announced it would be the first college to allow students to identify their sexual orientation on their applications.
After a space where students could indicate their religious affiliation, prospective students were asked: “Would you consider yourself to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?”
Well, the first crop of applications with the optional inquiry went out and about 109 or 5% of respondents classified themselves as L,G,B or T. (In all, about 90% of prospective students opted to answer the question.)
Of course the results may not reflect an accurate portrait of the student body. “Many parents are highly engaged in their student’s college application process. You have the phenomenon of an 18-year-old who may know who they are, but may not want family to [know],” Elmurst Dean of Admissions Gary Rold told the Chicago Tribune. “The real motivation here is to send a signal to gay and lesbian students that this is a gay- and lesbian-friendly environment.”
We’re definitely in favor of creating college campuses where LGBT student can feel welcome, but is having kids identify their orientation like this the best way to go about it? Even Rold admits parents might inadvertently discover how their child has answered, opening up a messy can of worms.
And how confidential is this information? We have friends who’ve worked at university admissions offices, where even temp workers can access student information.
Perhaps we’re being paranoid but we’d hate for even one student to suffer because someone found out they were gay or trans or bi before they were ready to publicly come out. These are 17- and 18-year-olds we’re talking about—some of whom are closer in emotional maturity to children than grown adults.
How about our colleges and universities foster gay-friendly environments regardless of how many LGBT students they actually have on campus?