Elmhurst College, a small private college about 20 miles west of Chicago, Illinois, will apparently be the first college in the country to make sexual orientation a part of its admissions process. According to an article by Richard Kahlenberg in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Elmhurst [will]… include a question about sexual orientation and gender identity on its undergraduate admissions application.” Elmhurst’s dean of admission told The Chronicle, “We are trying to recruit students who are academically qualified and diverse, and we consider this another form of diversity.” Applicants who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered will be eligible for special scholarships for under-represented groups.
As Kahlenberg points out, this is actually a rather dramatic decision, both in terms of college admissions and gay rights:
One of the distinctive features of the movement for gay rights is that it has plainly and clearly sought equal treatment—a notion that, over time, has come to be accepted by a growing number of Americans. Elmhurst College, by asking students who apply whether they consider themselves “to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangendered) community” is taking us in a very different direction, from equal treatment to affirmative action.
This is particularly odd because, while it’s possible (indeed quite likely) that there aren’t many gay students at Elmhurst, there’re not exactly an ill-treated minority at the school. Furthermore, it seems likely these special admissions preferences and scholarships will mostly go to relatively privileged students. Most gay people begin to discover and indentify their sexual orientation after they get to college. The sorts of people comfortable with identifying as gay in high school are likely to be richer and more culturally sophisticated than the average high school student.
From an admissions perspective this move might be very good for Elmhurst, but it seems to set an odd precedent. While historically the attendance and graduation rates of ethnic minorities (and until recently women) were lower than average, there’s no indication that gay students merit (or would really benefit from) any particular preferences.