Elmhurst College, a private liberal arts school located in the western suburbs of Chicago, this week released a new undergraduate application [PDF] for its 2012-2013 academic year including a reportedly historic question: "Would you consider yourself to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?"
The question is the first of its kind according to Campus Pride, a national advocacy group working to foster more LGBT-inclusive college settings, whose executive director Shane Windmeyer described the move as "a distinct and unique paradigm shift in higher education" in a statement Tuesday.
"For the first time, an American college has taken efforts to identify their LGBT students from the very first moment those students have official contact with them. This is definite progress in the right direction -- and deserves praise," Windmeyer said.
The question is an optional one for prospective students to fill out on the newly designed application, and also offers a "prefer not to say" option. It appears in a series of questions asking applicants about their religious affiliation, languages other than English spoken in their home and other questions school administrators hope will help identify students' needs and potential interest in campus programs and resources, according to Campus Pride. In this case, students could be put in touch with a student club called Straights and Gays for Equality (SAGE).
The question will also, as the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, identify students as eligible for an "enrichment" scholarship worth roughly one-third of their tuition. The scholarship is given to about 100 incoming students each year -- traditionally applicants from underrepresented groups.
Gary Rold, dean of admission at Elmhurst, said the addition of the new question is part of the school's commitment to "looking at diversity in all of its forms," as Inside Higher Ed reports.
Common Application, a group that represents some 400 colleges and universities nationwide, rejected a similar proposal to add a question about sexual orientation to their application last year. The group was concerned that "any potential benefits to adding the question would be outweighed by the anxiety and uncertainty students may experience when deciding if and how they should answer it," according to Inside Higher Ed.
Rold doesn't buy that claim, saying that students can skip the question altogether if they prefer.
"As long as people have the option not to answer, we felt that we have covered the base of a student who's not ready for that," Rold told the Chronicle.
Photo by Teemu008 via Flickr.