Elmhurst College asks applicants for sexual orientation

By Editorial Board

In an environment of growing tolerance and acceptance of the LGBTQ community, Elmhurst College in Chicago’s western suburbs has taken a big step to keep the college up to date with evolving

public opinion.

Elmhurst will become the first U.S. institution of higher education to include an optional question regarding sexual orientation on its admissions application. The question will help the college to identify resources and information students may need, according to Elmhurst officials.

The push to be more open and welcoming toward LGBTQ individuals should be applauded and emulated by other colleges. However, there are still some issues with Elmhurst’s methods.

How students respond to this question could determine their eligibility for the college’s Enrichment Scholarship, a yearly award, normally given to approximately 100 “underrepresented” students, that covers nearly a third of tuition costs. An optional question on sexual orientation could invite fraud by applicants who may lie to gain eligibility for a scholarship they might not receive otherwise.

Unfortunately, it not only seems bizarre, but would be intrusive to ask students to support their answers as ethnic minorities are sometimes asked to do.

One option might be changing the application procedure for this scholarship to separate it from the initial application.

The college should also consider other ways to determine demographics and raise awareness of the different groups and organizations on campus. It should be able to promote all aspects of the institution, including campus LGBTQ groups, without asking a question that some applicants might not be comfortable answering.

This also raises the issue of what kind of pressure this might put on a student who is not publicly “out.” The incentive of a scholarship covering a third of total tuition costs would force students who may not be fully comfortable with their sexuality to choose between forfeiting the opportunity for that specific financial aid and coming to terms with something they may not be ready to admit.

The question must be asked: What happens to this data once the college gathers and organizes it? While the reasons given for adding the question seem sincere, if this information were ever to be released to the public—or worse, to data mining companies—it would severely discredit the compassion the college seems to have.

As the first college to take this step, Elmhurst is headed in the right direction, but the administration should keep in mind that well-intentioned ideas can be just a step away from very misguided practices.