Elmhurst College Including LGBT Prospective Students Is a Non-Issue

In what is being hailed as a non-event, Elmhurst College has made it through the first round of admissions where they ask prospective students if they are LGBT. This fall Elmhurst became the first institute of higher education to include an admissions question about sexual orientation and gender identity, launching them into the public eye.

The college announced that 109 (or about 5%) of the applicants identified themselves as LGBT. As Inside Higher Ed writer Mitch Smith aptly points out, “[Th]e new policy hasn’t spawned a windfall of openly gay applicants.” Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, adds that the percentage of applicants falls well within the estimated number of LGBT people in the US. Windmeyer also offered his congratulations, saying, “I think it’s an exceptional number for the first semester of doing something and Elmhurst should be proud.”

In response to those who had criticized the move, Gary Rold, Dean of Admissions for Elmhurst, says he found many of the objections to be spurious. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Rold said, “I did a couple talk radio (interviews) and found those to be more for entertainment value than anybody actually learning anything. Thoughtful people, in general, have examined this issue and have come away feeling better about it."

In an open letter to the community, Elmhurst President S. Alan Ray stated, “This year, we simply decided that the time had come for our campus to include self-identified LGBT students in this process. Creating a positive, welcoming environment for all of our students is part of our mission. It’s reflected in our core values… In short, we understood this action as a principled institution seeking to do right by its students.”

Ray expanded on the need for a welcoming environment for all students saying, “A self-identified LGBT student brings distinct perspectives and experiences to campus, which add significantly to our cultural diversity.” Ray continued, “Moreover, the best research in the field shows that undergraduates learn better when they engage a wide range of persons both like and unlike themselves.”

Citing the college’s United Church of Christ (UCC) affiliation, Ray adds another layer of motivation to the decision to be openly inclusive of the LGBT community on campus. “The UCC describes itself as ‘extravagantly welcoming,’” Ray writes, “We are, too. The church has a long and honored tradition of meeting people where they are in life to share the Good News. That tradition is highly consonant with our own core values.” To underscore his point, Ray includes a note from the President and General Minister of the UCC, the Reverend Dr. Geoffrey Black, which he sent upon hearing about the change in the application, “This is good news!” Black said. “I might add that it is yet another UCC first and I am delighted to hear about it.”

Describing the importance of asking students about their orientation and gender identity, Admissions Dean Rold shares the story of a prospective student who experienced family rejection and homelessness after his parents learned he was gay. “Stories like that really led us to this position,” Rold said. “These kids are up against it in a lot of different ways. If we can help them transition, so much the better -- but we have to know who's who first.”

GLAAD joins in applauding Elmhurst for their decision to ask students to self-identify and share their experience as part of the LGBT community. Elmhurst’s commitment to creating a welcoming campus for all students can serve as a model as other institutions in higher education follow step.