To Ask or Not to Ask: LGBT Identity on College Admission Forms (Opinion)

Tim Goral's picture
Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Still today, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) college students are invisible. If you ask a college to identify its LGBT students, they usually mention the students in their club or campus group, or possibly select leaders on campus who are out. The assumption, which is wrong, is that all out LGBT college students are part of the club or involved in campus activities.

Colleges and universities are responsible for the education and safety of all students, including their LGBT students. A school cannot provide necessary services or maintain proper safety and campus climate without first knowing who are the out LGBT students attending their school. Demographic questions asking students about their sexual orientation and gender identity give university administrators the data they need to properly implement LGBT-inclusive policies and practices.

In order to best serve the needs of out LGBT college students, it is imperative that colleges and universities give these students the option to self-identify on the college admission form. This way the campus can take responsibility for the LGBT student experience, their academic retention, safety, and success from the beginning. For a long time, colleges have done this in regard to race/ethnicity, religion, and other optional demographics on college admission forms.

The decision not to ask out LGBT students to self-identify is alarming when national research shares that nearly a quarter of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth encounter harassment on college campuses, and for trans youth that percentage of harassment is even higher. Such bias and harmful experiences can lead to a higher dropout rate and negatively impact their academic success and/or other health and well-being issues on campus. But we wouldn't know this -- because colleges don't ask and, as a result, are not held accountable to LGBT students.

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