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?
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."
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.
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
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
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
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