In an attempt to guarantee services are provided for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, the Academic Senate of the University of California initiated a proposal to ask incoming freshmen to identify their sexual orientation during the admissions process.
The University of California, like most other schools, already has a list of questions regarding race, gender and ethnicity on the statements of intent students fill out when accepting their admissions offer. Adding sexuality to the list seems natural as another measure of diversity.
And this could start a trend among colleges and universities. Illinois’ Elmhurt College was early in taking the step forward, becoming the first college to ask students about their sexual orientation last year.
While ABC News reported that several GLBT students voiced their approval of the proposal to the student newspaper, not everyone is supportive of the initiative. Although the question would likely be optional, some worry that the information could potentially cause more discrimination against or isolation of the GLBT community. Another dilemma is the belief that acceptance into schools should be based solely on merit, not diversity.
However relevant these concerns are, the positive outcomes that could rise if the proposal is accepted greatly outweigh any negative outcomes. The fact that this aspect of diversity has been ignored for so long is unsettling and speaks to the level of unfamiliarity or discomfort many people continue to have regarding speaking about, or even understanding GLBT issues.
Musu Jackson-Buckner, academic advisor for the Temple Honors Program, said that the recent attention that GLBT culture has been receiving might have spurred the proposal. And while she said she doesn’t believe that adding a question into the admissions process could solve every problem, it could push universities to further support its GLBT students.
“My hope would be if we have that information about our students we could do a better job of knowing how people identify, knowing who is in our community and doing our best to support them,” Jackson-Buckner said.
Besides being able to provide scholarships based on diversity to GLBT students, schools could also direct their students to on-campus groups or direct them to other helpful resources such as health services, which Jackson-Buckner said may be particularly beneficial for transgender students.
Jackson-Buckner, who identifies as bisexual, said that having a supportive campus community can be very helpful in making GLBT students feel more at ease in their environments.
“Because I was able to find people that I could talk to, I felt a lot more comfortable,” Jackson-Buckner said. “And I was able to find myself in my college community and move forward with embracing my identity, but also kind of living the life that I felt I was supposed to.”
It might not be a coincidence that the proposal sprung up at the same time that college student Dharun Ravi from Rutgers University is on trial for allegedly bullying and spying on his roommate while he was having a gay sexual encounter. Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide following the incident.
This type of gay-bullying, while now receiving national attention, isn’t new according to Jackson-Buckner. Labeling it as an “epidemic,” she said that schools should spread awareness in terms of acceptance among campus alumni and faculty members.
If the proposal is passed, more than just additional tools and resources could potentially be provided for GLBT students. Learning how to talk about and understand differing sexual orientations is more crucial. Diversity is a significant part of life, and it’s about time that we open ourselves up to differing points of view and create a larger support system for the GLBT community.
“Colleges are a really great place and a supportive environment to kind of start broaching that topic and moving forward,” Jackson-Buckner said.
According to the Daily Bruin, UC’s provost Lawrence Pitts will make the final decision on the proposed policy.
“If a student comes to a university,” Jackson-Buckner said, “and the university is going to ask ‘what is your sexual orientation?’ I think that student’s going to have the expectation that if they are a member of one of those protected groups [GLBT], then that university is going to provide resources or help find resources to feel happy or supportive or successful on campus.”
During the past year, Temple administered its own survey to students, staff and faculty. The survey addressed the needs of the GLBT community on Main Campus, and its results will be used to further inform administrators on the climate of the GLBT community and the effectiveness of outreach programs, Director of the Communications Program Dr. Scott Gratson told The Temple News.
The Queer Student Union at Temple will analyze the results when they are released in order to better understand the needs of the GLBT community. As more and more schools address the needs of the GLBT community, hopefully others will follow in their footsteps.
The central question here isn’t whether or not adding the question of sexual orientation to the admissions process is good or bad, but rather why it has taken so long to consider this a significant measure of diversity. And why are so many still too uncomfortable to talk about it?
Cary Carr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.