By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com August 24 2011 4:00 PM ET
Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., has become the first college or university to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity on its undergraduate application.
Administrators at the small liberal arts school, located just west of Chicago, told The Chronicle of Higher Education they plan to use the information to connect students with services and help determine eligibility for scholarships earmarked for underrepresented groups.
“We ask a lot of questions in admissions, so we thought, why not ask about this too?” Gary Rold, Elmhurst’s dean of admission, told the Chronicle. “We are trying to recruit students who are academically qualified and diverse, and we consider this another form of diversity.”
The question will appear on the application form for the 2012-2013 academic year, and answering it is optional. It will read, “Would you consider yourself to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?” Applicants may choose “yes,” “no,” or “prefer not to answer.”
The board that administers the Common Application, used by more than 400 schools, has considered adding such a question to that document but decided against doing so, while leaving the possibility open in the future. A few schools, when asking prospective students about interests, list LGBT issues as one of the choices but do not ask applicants outright about their identity.
Shane L. Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, an LGBT advocacy group focused on higher education, praised Elmhurst’s move. It lets LGBT students know they are welcome on campus, and “by standardizing this question, we can match students up with resources and start to communicate with them,” he told the Chronicle. He expects many schools to follow Elmhurst’s lead, saying, “In the next 10 years, we’ll look back and ask why colleges didn’t make this change much sooner.”
Elmhurst College is affiliated with a gay-supportive religious body, the United Church of Christ, and has about 3,400 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. For the past eight years, it has been rated one of the best colleges in the Midwest by the Princeton Review. It is just a few miles from Wheaton College, also rated highly by the Review for its academics — but ranked as the least gay-friendly.