Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sexual Orientation Questions on College Application Questionnaires

In a move that many may find controversial, the University of Iowa is beginning to ask students about their sexual orientation and gender identity; the University of Iowa is the first public U.S. university to begin asking such questions.  At least one private university, Elmhurst College in Illinois, has previously asked such questions of their students.

“The university's decision places it in the middle of a debate in higher education over whether to put such questions to students in a bid to become more inclusive, or to avoid doing so because it could be too intrusive.” The University’s goals in obtaining such data is to: 1) provide better services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students; 2) track retention of these students; and, 3) gauge interest in support services offered by the University.  In order to respect students’ privacy, the questions related to sexual orientation and gender identity are optional on the University’s application questionnaire. 

Campus Pride, a gay and lesbian advocacy organization, has previously attempted to (and continues to push for) questions such as those put forth by the University of Iowa to be included in other university’s application questionnaires.  Campus Pride sees such questions sees such questions being needed to meet the growing need of support services to actively involve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

Had the University of Iowa implemented these questions in furtherance of a policy of exclusion or other type of discrimination, then said questions most certainly should be disallowed.  Had the University of Iowa required that prospective students answer these questions to be considered for admittance, then any outcry over the inclusion of the relevant questions would also be justified.  However, the University of Iowa is asking these questions on a purely voluntary basis (respecting privacy and allowing potential students a choice in answering said questions) and will purportedly be used for the benefit of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.  As long as answering these questions remains voluntary, and results are used solely for the basis of tailoring programs and services that benefit students, it is hard to see an issue with what the University of Iowa is doing.  With the continued push of Campus Pride, perhaps the University of Iowa will be the first of many public universities to use such questions to attempt to meet the needs of the growing population of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

You can read more on this story from Reuters.