US: First public university allows LGBT students to self-identify

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The University of Iowa has announced that it is adding an optional question on sexuality, and a trans option under gender, to its undergraduate application forms.

The university has made the decision to include such questions, in an effort to welcome all students, and in order to gather data on its success at attracting students who aren’t straight, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Elmhurst College, a university in the US state of Illinois, began asking students similar questions in 2011, and in July, reported that 5% of applicants voluntarily noted they were gay, bi or trans on admission forms.

The University of Iowa, however, will be the first public university to give students the option to self-identify on its application forms.

Equality advocates have noted this change as positive, and have said it is siginiicant because the university, which enrols over 30,000 students, is considered flagship.

Shane Windmeye, executive director of Campus Pride, said: “This is a huge deal in that it shows any campus that it can do the same thing,”

The change to application forms at Iowa includes two changes. The first is that there is now the option to choose ‘transgender’ as well as ‘male’ and ‘female’ under the ‘gender’ section of the form.

The second is that – under a series of questions including parents’ educational background and interest in fraternities and sororities – the university now asks: “Do you identify with the LGBTQ community?”

Mr Windmeyer, of Campus Pride, and others, have been encouraging universities to take these steps, and saying that it is a win-win situation, as students feel more welcomed, and the universities gather information which could prove useful.

The senior admissions counsellor at the University of Iowa, Jake Christensen, who put the idea forward, said when he was a gay undergraduate at the university, he was greeted with an “open and accepting environment,” but that he realised after he graduated that “there was no targeted recruitment of LGBT students.”

When the Common Application, a universal application service, decided not to introduce such questions, it issued a statement which said: “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.”