This fall, students who apply to Elmhurst College in Illinois will have the option to answer a question about their sexual orientation.
The private school outside Chicago is the first college in the United States to approach applicants with this question, according to the Chicago-Sun Times. Since Penn has been recognized as a leader among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-friendly colleges, students and administrators wonder whether the University will follow suit.
“Many steps have been taken to achieve this goal at Penn in a joint effort of Undergraduate Admissions, the LGBT Center and the Lambda Alliance,” Bob Schoenberg, director of the LGBT Center, wrote in an email.
Although undergraduate applicants cannot check an LGBT box on Penn’s application, Schoenberg explained that there is an optional LGBT identification question present on some of Penn’s graduate applications.
“It would certainly be beneficial to the LGBT community to have a sexual orientation question in Penn’s application,” Corinne Rich, a College senior and chair of Lambda Alliance, Penn’s umbrella organization for LGBT groups, wrote in an email.
She explained that the Lambda Alliance struggles with knowing how many people the organization represents on campus, even though Penn Admissions flags applicants who mention LGBT-related activities in their application or essays.
“It would be great to have some data on how many LGBT undergraduates we have, should they choose to self-identify on such a question,” she wrote.
“There are benefits to asking the question in terms of representing the university’s commitment to diversity,” Schoenberg said. However, he believes that there are also possible disadvantages to such a question.
This question may be a disadvantage for applicants who want their parents or guidance counselor to review an application but are not open about their sexual orientation at home, Schoenberg added.
“Every cultural group has needs unique to that group,” Makhosonkhe Nsibandze, a Wharton junior and Wharton Alliance president, wrote in an email. “Identifying who they are can only mean you want to do something about those differences,” he added.
Shane Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride — a national organization that works with student leaders and campus groups to create a safer environment for LGBT students — said he was “surprised Penn has not added an optional question.”
“Penn has led the way in many LGBT priorities when it comes to college campuses,” Windmeyer said. He said that Penn could add this optional question to its supplement to the Common Application.
The addition of such a question to the Common App has been discussed, and according to Windmeyer, Penn Admissions has written to the organization to petition for an optional LGBT question.
However, the Common App voted against the request.
“For now they don’t think it is the right thing to do but haven’t ruled it out in the future,” Schoenberg said.
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