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affirmative action

affirmative action


Do gays deserve the same boost into college as racial minorities?

Do gay college applicants face the same prejudicial roadblocks to success as their straight African-American, Latino, and Asian-American counterparts? That's what university admissions officers are asking as they weigh another question: Should schools consider adding gays to lists of preferred minorities?

Queer affirmative action received attention in the world of academics after an October 2006 article in Inside Higher Ed reported that Vermont's Middlebury College would be the first to implement affirmative action for gay applicants. At an admissions conference that month, a representative for the college had announced, "Middlebury College is this year for the first time giving students who identify themselves as gay in the admissions process an 'attribute'--the same flagging of an application that members of ethnic minority groups, athletes, alumni children, and others receive."

Middlebury officials later refuted their representative's assertion and denied they had plans for gay affirmative action, but other schools are cautiously pondering whether to consider sexual orientation in their admissions. People like 21-year-old gay Oregon State University student Tyler Hansen are cheering.

"Historically, we've been unfairly targeted for discrimination and exclusion," says Hansen. "There are cases in which university officials actively sought out and expelled gay students."

On the other hand, some believe that gays--white male gays in particular--don't deserve the same protected status as racial minorities. After all, although queer students are susceptible to bigotry, the orientation of a gay white man is not as discernible as the ethnicity of a Latino student.

In Seattle, 23-year-old lesbian and University of Washington graduate student Chelsea Jennings is among the gay affirmative action dissenters. "Affirmative action is not just about diversity," she says. "It's about access for people who would not have it otherwise." In recent years, liberal states like California and Washington have stepped away from affirmative action, with voters eliminating the practice from government hiring and public university admissions.

Some states are now promoting diversity at state-run colleges with a "holistic" admissions policy. "Holistic review does not take into account race but rather asks what vitality will the person add to the student community," explains Philip Ballinger, director of admissions at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Applicants are asked to write an essay about adversities they've faced. Gay and lesbian students often share personal experiences in a compelling way."

The school's holistic approach seems to be working--UW has achieved a diverse cross sampling of ethnic cultures and minorities, says Ballinger, citing enrollment statistics and a recent report.

Brandon Ford, a 24-year-old gay political science major at UW, believes his school's methodology is the way to go. "Gay affirmative action is a [hopeful] idea, but realistically, it would be pointless," Ford argues. "Schools that are already gay-friendly would be the only ones to consider changing their affirmative action policies to benefit gays, while schools that would benefit would not even consider a policy change."

But if that's true, how does segregation and prejudice on college campuses get addressed? Jaedon Cariaso, a staff member of San Francisco's LGBT youth center Lyric, says gay students--white and black, in the closet and out--will benefit only when universities evolve naturally instead of imposing artificial solutions. "Schools should start by creating safe and tolerant campuses before attempting to radically diversify their populations," he said. n

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David Luc Nguyen