Incoming freshmen and transfer students may be asked to declare their sexual orientation upon accepting admission offers from a University of California school.
At a meeting in January, the Academic Senate, a board that oversees academic decisions system-wide, recommended an option be provided on statements of intent to register for students to self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
“Sexual orientation is a part of diversity and cannot be ignored,” said Robert Anderson, chair of the system-wide Academic Senate.
The issue was brought to the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, and the board made its recommendation in January. While there were mixed reactions, the board decided it is important to collect the statistical information, said Angela Arunarsirakul, a student representative on BOARS and a third-year political science and history student.
With a clearer understanding of how many students identify as LGBT, the UC system can better address their needs and provide services, Arunarsirakul said.
“(The change) can promote the idea of a more open-minded and tolerant campus,” said Katie Schowengerdt, a third-year American literature student who identifies as lesbian and is in support of the new measure.
Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Lawrence H. Pitts will be responsible for deciding whether to pass the proposed measure. His next step will be to convene a workgroup that consists of campus and UC Office of the President staff to determine the best way to collect information regarding students’ sexual orientation, Arunarsirakul said.
It is not yet known when a final decision will be reached, because the workgroup wants to take the time to thoroughly discuss options and challenges to make the system most effective, and enact positive change, said Jesse Bernal, the diversity coordinator at the UC Office of the President.
State legislation already mandates that community colleges and California State universities collect information regarding students’ sexual orientation. It has been requested by the state that the UCs also collect this demographic information, Anderson said.
Unlike community colleges and CSUs, which are under the direct control of the state, UCs are more autonomous and have a choice of whether or not to comply with the state’s request, Bernal said.
To protect students’ privacy, the Academic Senate recommended the option to self-identify be put on the SIR forms instead of college applications.
“If the option is on the application, there will be a lot of parents looking over it, which might discourage some applicants from responding truthfully,” Arunarsirakul said.
The decision to self-identify will still be optional, which means incoming students could answer dishonestly or simply decline to respond.
Because of this, the data will likely not be 100 percent accurate, said Raja Bhattar, the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center at UCLA.
But he added that it is important that UC officials start to better understand the scope of the community.
Marcus McRae, director of the Queer Alliance and a fourth-year linguistic anthropology and political science student, said he also thinks this identification option will be beneficial.
“The data may not be accurate, but something is better than nothing,” McRae said.
The information could prompt the university to increase resources on campus specifically geared toward LGBT issues, he said.
McRae, who identifies as gay, said he lost the support of his family and experienced a hate crime while living on the Hill because of his sexuality. Finding a support system through the LGBT Center was very beneficial for him, he said.
The availability of such resources is important for LGBT students, who often don’t know who to turn to when various matters arise. Collecting statistics will encourage the university to create more readily available support systems for the students, McRae said.
He said he felt the potential benefits outweigh the fact that some might find the proposed measure invasive.
Some students, however, have voiced concerns over the Academic Senate’s recommendation.
One issue raised is that the proposal to have students self-identify as LGBT still does not include all sexual and gender minorities, McRae said.
Brandon Yeldell, a second-year mathematics student, said that, while it was a step in the right direction, he was not comfortable with merely calculating a statistic about students’ identity.
Yeldell self-identifies as gay, but he said he would not have chosen to declare his sexuality on his SIR if the option had been available when accepting his own admission to the university.
The way students will self-identify is not known at this time.
Whether incoming students will be asked to choose between lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender or simply asked to respond with a “yes” or “no” to a comprehensive classification has not yet been determined, Bernal said.