Though sexual orientation is commonly considered a personal issue, a new proposal in the University of California Academic Senate would allow the university to quantify the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender presence on campus.
The Academic Council of the UC Academic Senate recently recommended that students be given the opportunity to state whether they identify as LGBT on their Statement of Intent to Register, along with other basic demographic information such as race and gender.
At first glance, it might seem the university would be unnecessarily delving into a potentially sensitive subject for incoming students. However, gathering figures about how many students identify with the LGBT community could allow the university to better serve and support members of the community.
One valuable result of gathering this data about the incoming class would be to compare the graduation rate of LGBT students to the general population, said Catharine McGraw, student affairs officer of the LGBT Studies program and a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Affairs Council.
McGraw said it is suspected that LGBT students may have a higher dropout rate, but statistics about this are currently unavailable. By comparing the number of students identifying as LGBT at the time of enrollment with those at the time of graduation, the university could determine if there actually is a discrepancy between the graduate rates of students who identify as LGBT and those who do not.
This data would also help UCLA’s LGBT Campus Resource Center more accurately gauge how many students identify as LGBT and allow them to tailor their programs and efforts more effectively to serve those students.
Second-year undeclared student Chris Cabrera, who identifies as queer, said he thinks the information could be useful when it comes to student housing. Cabrera said he thinks some people are uncomfortable rooming with a self-identified LGBT student, which can lead to a negative dorm experience for everyone involved.
Determining the number of LGBT students at UCLA could incentivize UCLA Housing to provide resources to make sure students living on the Hill, whether LGBT or not, feel comfortable with their living situation. Perhaps UCLA Housing could develop a strategy to make sure LGBT students are not matched with a roommate who could be potentially hostile to their sexual preference while maintaining student privacy. At the least, organizations on the Hill could hold workshops about resolving housing problems, emphasizing that if a student does feel uncomfortable or unsafe with a roommate, they can opt for a room swap.
Though the specifics of this recommendation have not yet taken shape, there are some important considerations the Academic Senate should make to ensure that issues of sexuality are approached with sensitivity.
Of course, if included on the SIR, the question should be voluntary and phrased in such a way that students of all sexual orientations have the opportunity to express themselves.
While the university will collect and record individual responses, they should be careful to only use specific student preferences for implementing policies that absolutely require it, such as UCLA Housing matching roommates. In any public report or statistic, the information should be compiled as an aggregate to ensure student privacy is upheld.
Though this information about LGBT status could technically be asked for on the undergraduate application, the Academic Senate’s Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools holds the position that this information should not be requested on admissions forms. A report from BOARS chair Bill Jacob stated that the inquiry could be “awkward” for students who are still questioning or not fully comfortable with their sexual orientation, and are filling out these application forms with their parents.
Beyond that, Cabrera said he thinks applicants might fear judgment or even prejudice if they provided information about their sexual orientation on their application. He added that while it may be useful to gather such information once students have enrolled, there is not a clear purpose of inquiring about LGBT identity on the application.
Overall, allowing students to state whether they identify as LGBT on their SIR is a positive move; by listing it with other basic demographic characteristics, it is one small step towards removing the stigma and silence that often pervade discussions about sexual orientation.