As the UC system considers asking about sexual orientation, HeatherN offers words of caution.
The new policy within the University of California system, as described in the Los Angeles Times this week, of asking whether prospective students identify as LGBT, raises a few concerns for me. Mostly I see it as a good thing, with a few potential problems. On the plus side, if the data collected is actually put to use, it could help universities become more diverse and welcoming to LGBT students. A campus that is aware of how many LGBT students are attending can better determine what sorts of services are needed for LGBT students.
On the potentially negative side is the issue of privacy. Parents can access a child’s application, and this means that a closeted student might not necessarily answer truthfully. In fact, from personal experience, I know this is an entirely likely scenario. When I applied to university, the student aid form asked me whether I identified as LGBT, and I lied and said I didn’t, precisely because I wasn’t out to my parents yet and they could access the form. If enough students do this, it could skew the numbers enough that the survey becomes somewhat meaningless anyway. Ideally, the survey section of an application would be completely confidential, and even parents wouldn’t be able to access it.
It’s also important to mention that, though this article doesn’t expressly state it, the survey sections of university applications are separate from the information used to determine whether someone is accepted or not. In other words, when an application is being reviewed, this information won’t be part of it. There is no danger of some kind of LGBT affirmative action or of an anti-LGBT administrator deciding to only accept straight students. This information is used when giving out scholarships, but scholarships have always had an element of unfairness about them. There are scholarships for people who are left-handed, after all; people make scholarships for all sorts of random groups of people.
If we could make it completely confidential and separate from admissions requirements, I’d suggest we ask even more questions about university applicants. Universities that want to ensure they have adequate services and programs for their students should want to know as much about their prospective students as possible. We can’t turn applications into a facebook page full of likes and dislikes, obviously, but I think it would highly useful to ask about their social identities. Do students identify as BDSM? Are they working, middle, or upper class? What religion do they ascribe to? What political party are they affiliated with?
I suppose in the end I think this is a step in the right direction; it just needs to be tweaked a bit before actually being put in place.