Students At Elmhurst College Are Coming Out—On Their Applications

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?

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  • Cam

    “”(In all, about 90% of prospective students opted to answer the question.)””

    If you are filling out every other section of the application….it seems odd to just leave that one section blank…unless of course the question makes you uncomfortable.

    So you have 5% that answered yes, and 10% that refused to answer. Interesting.

  • Matt

    Usually for a question like this, there’s a “Prefer not to answer” choice.

  • hyhybt

    “How about our colleges and universities foster gay-friendly environments regardless of how many LGBT students they actually have on campus?”

    Well, yes… but knowing about how many there are makes it a lot easier to allocate resources. Decisions like whether a particular program is worthwhile depend greatly on whether five or five hundred will benefit.

  • Jonathan

    I applaud this courageous and important step by the college. As a university professor in NYC all too familiar with GLBT students who face bullying both at home and on campus, including the GLBT option on student applications sends a powerful message to not only the prospective GLBT students, but to those students who harbor anti-GLBT feelings or prejudice or worse, blatant, intolerable homophobia. More than anything, this simple gesture sends a strong message that such things are not welcome on the Elmhurst campus and THAT is a triumph for every GLBT person in America. That’s what changes minds and hearts and votes and at a time when we have Republican Presidential candidates smearing us and hurting every one of us, particularly the kids that are being bullied across America and those that are contemplating killing themselves. Elmurst is taking a subtle but meastand against hate

  • Jonathan

    meaningful stand against hate, one that we can only hope will help stem the tide of intolerance which pervades the political season and disgusts me as a gay American. I salute Elmhurst.

  • ChiDan

    If your sending your kids to Elmhurt College, there are a pretty good chance your gay friendly already. I was involved with the college of dupage gay group and we talked a lot and even met up with gays at elmhurst college before. Same with North central in naperville. It’s not as big of deal as its made out to be.

    Granted Elmhurst is in very anti-gay republican dupage county, its at the extreme edge, and doesn’t get wrapped up in all that republican bull that wheaton and so forth get into. Close enough in the city.

  • Hephaestion

    Jonathan (above) is 100% correct. Thank you, Elmhurst, for doing the right thing.

    Queerty, rather than planting doubts in readers’ minds by saying “And how confidential is this information?” why don’t you practice a little Journalism 101 and fucking ASK Elmhurst College how confidential it is. ASK if the parents can see this information. ASK, for Christ sake! Queerty unnecessarily and irresponsibly attempts to attribute either malice or irresponsibility to Elmhurst College with this lazily-written article.

  • Shane Windmeyer

    Queerty misses the point.

    I wish a LGBT news source like Queerty would email or pick up the phone to have an informed opinion before missing the point of why the “optional” question is even asked in the first place. The whole issue at hand is safety and responsibility of colleges for creating a safe learning environment for LGBT youth. Nobody is being forced to have to come out on the form. The question is optional and is meant for already out LGBT youth. Colleges often use the excuse that they don’t know who is LGBT so how can they be held responsible for reaching out to LGBT youth.

    Please read the 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People before writing on a topic that you have little expert, or informed knowledge. You can reach Campus Pride who has spent extensive time studying all sides of this issue by emailing [email protected] or call 704.277.6710.

    Your article is full of false fears and inaccuracies. I expect more from a LGBT news source frankly.

  • Shane Windmeyer

    Link to a more informed article:

    Campus Pride, the leading national college gay and lesbian advocacy group, applauded the August decision to add the question.

    “Anytime we can have the information that we need on a college campus to be more responsible for the campus climate I think is a good thing,” Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer said at the time. “By and large, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender college (LGBT) students are still invisible when it comes to college admissions.”

    Elmhurst College was the first U.S. institution of higher education to ask a demographic question about identity on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity on an admission form, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Elmhurst College asks the optional questions because it is “committed to diversity and connecting underrepresented students with valuable resources on campus,” according to a press release.

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