Gay Admissions: First Public College to Incorporate the Identity Question

Campus Pride, the nation’s leading educational organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create a safer college environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, is praising the decision by administrators at the University of Iowa in Iowa City for including optional questions about students’ sexual orientation and gender identity in their college admission application.

The University of Iowa, a public institution of higher education founded in 1847, became the first public institution and the second U.S. college or university to add LGBT-specific demographic questions to its college admission form. The school follows Elmhurst College, a private four-year liberal arts college, which made history in August 2011 as the first U.S. institution of higher education to ask such demographic questions on their admission form. Elmhurst’s and Iowa’s decisions reflect a conscious choice by administrators at the schools to actively exercise responsibility for retention and academic success of LGBT students.

"The move by University of Iowa administrators to include these specific LGBT identity questions represent a growing paradigm shift in higher education to actively recognize out LGBT youth populations and to exercise greater responsibility for LGBT student safety, retention and academic success," said Shane Windmeyer, Campus Pride executive director. "For the first time, a major, public and national research university has taken efforts to identify their LGBT students from the very first moment those students have official contact with them. This is definite progress in the right direction — and deserves praise."

The new college admission application asks an optional question—"Do you identify with the LGBTQ Community?" — and offers "Transgender" as an additional gender option. The questions will be used to determine incoming students’ needs, track retention rates, potential interest in campus programs, and to offer support resources. The optional identity question appears in a section of other optional questions asking students about family connections to the university, parents’ educational background, interest in ROTC programs, and interest in fraternities and sororities.

University of Iowa Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President Georgina Dodge believes that inviting students to provide this information will help with both student success and retention.

"LGBTQ students are important members of our campus community, and we want to provide them with an opportunity to identify themselves in order to be connected to resources and to build networking structures," said Dodge. "Asking LGBTQ students to identify themselves demonstrates that we value this aspect of identity just as we value the other categories for which students check boxes."

In January 2011, the Common Application, which represents nearly 400 colleges and universities, rejected a proposal supported by Campus Pride and others to add similar identity questions to their standardized national admissions application citing cultural norms and that very few colleges have sought the information. The organization the same year added a question around religious affiliation for public and private campuses.

"Campus Pride knows from our national research that a quarter of LGB students encounter harassment on campus and this percentage is even greater for transgender students. We also know that LGB youth are at higher risk with certain negative health factors.  There is no reason today why colleges and universities should not be held accountable for the campus climate as well as want to ensure the academic success and retention of LGBT students," said Windmeyer.  "We track retention for other student populations. Now is the time to do so for LGBT students."

Campus Pride provides resources and programs for colleges and universities seeking to make their campuses more welcoming and affirming for LGBT students. The organization also has online a search tool called the Campus Pride Index. Over 350 colleges and universities are ranked on their LGBT-friendliness in policies, programs and practice. The Index is available to students free of charge online.

In addition, Campus Pride’s LGBT-Friendly National College Fair Program gives schools the opportunity to actively reach out and recruit talented and driven students from across the country. The Fair’s tour stops in cities like Charlotte, NC, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York.  The next fair date is Friday, Jan 11, 2013 in New York City.

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