Opinion Brief

Should colleges question applicants about their sexuality?

A small liberal arts school tries to support LGBT students by becoming the first American college to question teens about their sexual preferences

Last week, Elmhurst College, a small liberal arts school outside of Chicago, added a trailblazing question to its application: "Would you consider yourself to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?" As with questions about race, ethnicity, and religion, potential applicants will have the option not to answer. But those who do answer in the affirmative will be eligible for scholarships for underrepresented minority groups. Elmhurst's dean of admissions, Gary Rold, says asking students about their sexuality will help foster diversity and provide support for LGBT students. "We try really hard to take good care of students," he says. "The only way you do that is to meet people where they really are." Is this a good move on the college's part?

No. Teens may not yet be sure of their sexuality: The school's welcoming and supportive attitude is great, says Mhaire Fraser at Care2. "But asking an 18-year-old to permanently identify his or her sexual orientation is not, perhaps, the best way" to be inclusive. At that age, many students are still figuring out their sexuality. What if an applicant declares that he's gay, but after experimenting, realizes he isn't. Will "he have to give scholarship money back?""Elmhurst College asks students to self-identify as LGBT"

And some just aren't ready to share: We've considered adding similar questions to our application, says Rob Killion, the executive director of Common Application, Inc., as quoted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. But for now, we're holding off. Sure, we ask about religion and marital status, but "not all 17-year-old kids know they're gay or are comfortable with being gay, or they know they're gay, but their counselor and their parents don't know." Best not to put them on the spot. "Elmhurst College will ask applicants about sexual orientation"

But Elmhurst should be applauded: This is a "small but meaningful step" that sends "a strong signal that the school will embrace LGBT students and will do its best to support them," says the Chicago Sun-Times in an editorial. Recent suicides among gay high school and college students show that LGBT teens continue to struggle, and "anything a college can do to roll out the welcome mat will help ease the way.""Editorial: A step ahead for LGBT teens"

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