College Hopefuls Now Have to Answer Sex and Gender Questions

Duke pushes an LGBTQ essay, while the Common App seeks students' sexual orientation

by Deirdre Reilly | Updated 26 Jan 2017 at 4:11 PM

If your student is applying to U.S. colleges and universities, buckle up. Application questions are about more than just educational readiness and intellectual aptitude — they’re about gender identity and sexual orientation, too.

“It’s so ridiculous. I was using the Common App [Common Application] and all of a suddenly there was a question about my gender identity,” said one Boston-area senior. “Why do they want to know that — and does it hurt or help my chances if I don’t answer?”

What does gender identity have to do with academic readiness?

This student joins some 850,000 others who are using the Common App to apply to college and who may well be scratching their heads, too.

On its website, the application service explains the various gender identity options for the 2016-17 academic year, stating that students “will have the ability to express their gender identity in several ways, including within the profile page [and] optional free response text field, as well as in member colleges’ specific sections.”

Sounds like gender identity will get as much attention from college admissions professionals as will grades, volunteer work and extracurricular activity — especially if the latter has anything to do with LGBTQ organizations or efforts.

What in the world does gender identity have to do with academic readiness? Not much — unless colleges are concerned with increasing their enrollment numbers, boosting their diversity quotas and bowing to progressive pressure from all sides.

“When my wife said that being homosexual, or at least so declaring, would become a qualification for college admission, I told her she was exaggerating. I guess not,” a commenter posted on Insidehighered.com about an article concerning progressive changes at Duke University. The esteemed institution in Durham, North Carolina, now offers an essay option to wax poetic about sexual identity.

From its website: “Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better — perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background — we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke.”

Duke is the first Common Application institution to add such an essay question — continuing the trend of elevating gender identity on college and university campuses. The Common Application itself is bowing to pressure: Back in 2011, it rejected the idea of adding optional questions on sexual orientation and gender identity to the application form, according to Insidehigheered.com.

"Many admission officers and secondary school counselors expressed concern regarding how this question might be perceived by students, even though it would be optional,” said a statement from the Common Application board at the time. “One common worry was 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.”

Yet clearly, by the 2016-17 academic year, being politically correct outweighed any concern over worry and anxiety of students.

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“Within the profile screen, the sex question will be updated to 'sex assigned at birth,'" notes the Common App website. “New instructional information will be provided to better support students in understanding all of their available options. Member colleges will still have the opportunity to ask additional questions in order to receive the data most needed for their individual campus process.”

Needed? Before LGBTQ advocates and lobbyists get too excited, these decisions are not just about championing diversity — this is about dollars and cents.

"It comes down to the bottom line,” Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, told Hechingerreport.org several years ago of its adoption of LGBT-inclusive policies. “It’s a competitive advantage. If you want to attract the best and brightest students, you don’t want competitors to get a leg up.”

Here are other colleges and universities that have elevated gender identity in the applications process, according to Campuspride.org:

—Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts offers all undergraduate and graduate students the option to fill out an enrollment form on which they have the option of identifying sexual identity. The choices are many: bisexual, gay, heterosexual/straight, lesbian, even "prefer not to answer." Students can also indicate whether or not they identify as transgender.

—California's two-year colleges now ask students to “please indicate your sexual orientation,” and options are: straight/heterosexual, gay or lesbian/homosexual, bisexual, other, and decline to state. They also ask an optional question: “Do you consider yourself transgender?”

—The California State University system really wants to know where you stand: The questions asked are, “Do you identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT)?” and “What is your gender identity?” The choices are: female, female to male transgender, intersex, male, male to female transgender, not sure, other, decline to state.

—Connecticut College offers the optional question, “If you identify as Trans, Queer, Cis, or another gender, please indicate that here.”

—Dartmouth College lists “gender identity” and “LGBT community” among 22 “personal interests” that students can choose from on the supplement to their Common Application.

—Elon University asks an optional question: “Do you consider yourself part of the LGBTQIA community?”

Other colleges that want to know a student's place on the spectrum include: Ohio State, the SUNY system (State University of New York), MIT, Northeastern Illinois University, University of Iowa, University of Maryland, University of Massachusetts/Amherst, and University of Pennsylvania.

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