Forcing kids out of the closet: the damage of disclosure

Emerson is known for being an open and accepting community; the Princeton Review ranked us the number one LGBTQ friendly school in the country, we have a history of students who are extremely active in advancing LGBTQ issues, and our campus’ LGBTQ group EAGLE celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Each year, our school improves the resources it offers the LGBTQ community. But while Emerson treats the community with tact and care, it seems the Common Application may not.

The Common Application recently considered a proposal to add questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to their slate of questions.

The reasons for adding such a section should be chalked up to a misplaced sense of assistance to the queer community. Proponents of the questions argued that having information on a student’s sexual orientation would enable colleges to improve student services and even more actively recruit LGBTQ students. Some say that modern applications should include the question to be up to date.

But to investigate a prospective student’s sexual orientation would produce dangerous results and set precedents that would be difficult to reverse. The Common Application made the right decision when its administrators decided against adding the question shelving the prospect of asking about sexual orientation for a few more years.

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Requiring students to self-identify shows a lack of regard for a student’s right to privacy. A school need not be able to name every single queer student on campus in order to provide the right kind of services and atmosphere.

Every campus should strive to provide gender neutral housing, offer a LGBTQ resources coordinator on it’s professional staff, and adapt to the needs of the community as they arise. Our schools cannot begin to depend on students self-identifying as LGBTQ in order to justify providing a safe and welcoming environment.

While great strides have been made in the past few years for LGBTQ equality, it can still be extremely difficult for youth who are publicly out, or those still trying to figure out where they lie on the identity and gender spectra.

Sexual orientation and gender identity can be very confusing concepts. The crucial part of providing a safe and inclusive space for LGBTQ students is the creation of an environment where it is okay to be at whatever stage they are in their intenseley personal process of self discovery. There are already so many pressures when applying for college—a student should not be asked to add the stress of making such a personal admission to a panel of strangers. It is different than asking a student to identify their ethnicity, optional as it may be; sexual orientation and gender identity are two things that people must discover for themselves in their own time and in their own way.

There may be a place for this kind of optional question in the future, and the Common Application has said that it will reconsider the idea in the next few years. The question can really only be safely added when it is easier for youth to self-identify as LGBTQ.

There are plenty of other ways to allow students to show that LGBTQ issues are important to them, or to indicate that the applicants want their choice schools to care about queer students. Colleges need to do the legwork here and publicize the services they offer. They need to enable current students to reach out to prospective students and be knowledgeable on different aspects of campus climate, and they need to show that the school is looking for ways to make the campus climate safer and more inclusive for LGBTQ students.

If a change to the Common Application is going to happen sometime down the line, changes should be made to make the application more inclusive, instead of more prohibitive and intimidating. The gender ratio buttons, which only allow you to choose one option, should be modified to include a blank text box where students could fill in whatever they feel best describes them along the gender spectrum. The same format should be provided for any other question of sexual orientation or gender identity so students don’t feel the pressure to force their identity into a small check box.

Most importantly, these questions should be in a section of the Common Application clearly labeled and separated as optional questions, and should include the current questions asked about race, ethnicity, religion, all with a text box where students can enter their own unique answers. This is what we should advocate for, because at the end of the day, a student’s college career shouldn’t hinge on personal identity questions, but on accomplishments, merit, and hard work.