To better serve the needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community on college campuses, some California state universities are considering putting an optional question on college applications that asks students about their sexual orientation.
USC currently does not plan to include the question on its application form, said Timothy Brunold, dean of admission.
“Part of the fear [for including it] is that for many students who are going through this process, their parents, for example, don’t even know that their son or daughter has a particular identity,” Brunold said. “One of the last things we would want to do would be to ask that student about it specifically, in fear that that student might not be ready to share his or her identity with someone who might be looking at their application.”
Brunold said USC uses the pre-orientation homework to gather that information. On the homework, students can indicate whether or not they want more information on a particular department, such as the LGBT Resource Center.
Vincent Vigil, director of the LGBT Resource Center, said the pre-orientation homework has successfully helped his center identify the need of USC’s LGBT students.
“That formula tends to be working for us so far,” Vigil said. “It’s not so much that everyone who fills out the pre-orientation homework identifies as LGBT, they can also be an ally, someone involved in gay rights high school who wants to continue their involvement.”
Vigil said the idea of putting a voluntary question about sexual orientation on USC’s application could have positive and negative results. Though including the question would give the university another starting point for recognizing the number of students who identify with the LGBT community, Vigil said the question itself is inherently problematic.
“In terms of sexual identity, you’re talking about someone’s development,” Vigil said. “For students, the developmental process happens throughout their entire four years here at college. I could get a number of students entering that identify as LGBT but that number may or may not be accurate when thinking about the senior class that leaves.”
Maggie Carroll, a senior majoring in gender studies and comparative literature, said including a question about an applicant’s sexual orientation on college applications could be beneficial.
“It’s hard to figure out what students need without knowing who they are,” Carroll said.
Carroll said that asking a question solely about sexual orientation might also be limiting.
“The queer community spans beyond sexual orientation,” Carroll said. “There’s a growing number of students who identify as transgender or gender nonconforming in some way.”
Bhavan Desai, a sophomore majoring in political science, said he disagrees with putting a voluntary question about sexual orientation on USC’s college application.
“Even if it’s optional, I don’t think the admissions committee has the right to ask if someone’s LGBT,” Desai said. “It doesn’t respect that person’s privacy, and if someone is LGBT, they might feel pressured to check that box.”
Though there are places on the application where an applicant can include their sexual identity if they want to disclose that information optionally, such as the personal statement, filling in a circle on an application is problematic, Desai said.
“With sexual orientation it can change from time to time,” Desai said. “You’re straight, but then realize you’re gay, or bisexual, so creating a box where you check your sexual orientation isn’t the same as when you check a box which identifies you as being white or Hispanic,” Desai said.
Pavitra Krishnamani, a sophomore majoring in psychology, said the box is not a perfect idea, but anything that helps the school to meet students’ needs is good.
“It’s a good idea that the school at least gets a feel for the population coming in so it can allocate resources beforehand,” Krishnamani said. “That doesn’t mean they’ll get everyone, but having an optional box can’t hurt. I don’t see much of a downside as long as the school doesn’t go solely off that information.”
Vigil said USC plans to look at peer institutions that are including an optional question about sexual orientation on their application before the university considers whether to put the question on USC’s application.