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article imageUS college first to ask incoming students sexual orientation

By Lynn Herrmann     Aug 27, 2011 in World
Chicago - A Midwest US college affiliated with the United Church of Christ is the first institution to ask its undergraduates an optional question regarding their sexual orientation and gender identity, a part of advancing its "diversity goals."
Elmhurst College, located in suburban Chicago, is the first US college to ask potential enrollees the optional question on its college application: “Would you consider yourself a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community?”, according to a college statement.
“We took this step in an effort to better serve each of our students as a unique person,” said Elmhurst President S. Alan Ray, in the statement. “It also allows us to live out our commitments to cultural diversity, social justice, mutual respect among all persons, and the dignity of every individual. These are among the core values of this institution. They provide the foundation for all of our academic, student and community programs.”
In addition to the LGBT question, a group of optional questions concerning religious affiliation, language spoken at home, and participation in community based organizations are all part of Elmhurst’s commitment “to diversity and connecting underrepresented students with valuable resources on campus,” according to the application (pdf).
“As every member of our campus community must know, Elmhurst College is dedicated not only to nondiscrimination but also to providing a welcoming, safe and supportive learning environment for every one of our students,” added Gary Rold, dean of admission, in the news release. “All of the information that we glean from our admission applications is used to provide a wide variety of opportunities, services and programming that is appropriate to each individual student.”
Campus Pride, an advocacy group, expects such questions to become more frequent in the coming years. Shane Windmeyer, the group’s executive director, said: “In the next 10 years, we’ll look back and ask why colleges didn’t make this change much sooner,” the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) reports.
Elmhurst made the decision of placing the question on its application due to the increased presence of LGBT students on campus. Another reason came as the result of a student organization, Straights and Gays for Equality (SAGE), which had previously contacted the admissions staff to help sponsor campus events. The staff agreed, with one of the events being the Big Gay Gathering, an event attended by invited local high school students.
Rold then searched for other ways to reach out to the LGBT community. The applications question came as a result. He feels staff members will be able to offer a more personalized approach with prospective students by offering letters and emails describing SAGE and other LGBT resources.
The question is optional, and Rold noted: “As long as people have the option not to answer, we felt that we have covered the base of a student who’s not ready for that,” according to CHE.
Students choosing to answer “yes” to the question become eligible for the school’s Enrichment Scholarship, awarded annually to about 100 incoming students. Traditionally given to underrepresented minority students, the scholarship covers a third of the school’s tuition, a welcome gift in light of escalating college tuition across the country.
Elmhurst cites itself as at times being “pioneering on social justice issues.” Dr. Ray, the president of Elmhurst, noted it is a matter of pride. “Of course, we recognize that this question may signal to applicants that Elmhurst is ‘walking the walk’ of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons,” he added in the statement. “This is a source of pride for us. It is entirely consistent with our mission and vision to prepare students to understand and respect the diversity of the world’s cultures and peoples.”
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