Elmhurst College Hopes To Be Enriched By Gay Students, Give Them Money

For queer students considering college acceptance letters, figuring out which campus and community will be most accepting of their sexual orientation, gender expression, or trans status can be a major and sometimes the most major factor in making their decision. Many a transfer application has been made when a student just couldn’t feel safe or comfortable at their original college; truly accepting environments can be hard to come by. But Elmhurst College may be making history as the first college who’s actively seeking out queer applicants instead of just accepting them — at least for a diversity scholarship that would cover up to one third of tuition.

Elmhurst is a small liberal arts college in Illinois, and according to its website has only about 2800 undergraduates. On Elmhurst’s new application, within a small group of optional questions and immediately after the space where students can declare a religious affiliation if they wish, Elmhurst asks “Would you consider yourself to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?” The question can be answered with “yes,” no,” or “prefer not to answer.”

The question isn’t meant to be a factor in admission — students won’t be accepted or rejected because they did or did not identify as gay, or because they chose not to answer the question. Instead, they can be entered into consideration for an “enrichment scholarship” that is set aside for admitted students who belong to underrepresented groups.

On its website, Elmhurst explains that it’s taken this step because it’s “committed to diversity and connecting underrepresented students with valuable resources on campus.” When a student chooses to answer the optional questions, he or she helps the institution to advance its diversity goals and to connect prospective students with the resources, including scholarships and campus organizations, that the College makes available to students from underrepresented groups. ”  It’s standard collegiate language around the weird academic cultural touchstone of “diversity,” but this is the first time that “diversity goals” have included queer students.

Elmhurst also has an annual LGBT Guestship, which this year will be filled by the Reverend Dr. William R. Johnson (Elmhurst also has affiliations with the United Church of Christ, which Reverend Johnson belongs to). When you combine that with the fact that Elmhurst has now received public attention from Campus Pride, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, the Chicago Sun-TimesThe Advocate, and others, Elmhurst is putting together exactly the kind of profile that lets queer students know they’re wanted and welcomed. Or is it?

The Common Application, an entity that collegebound high school seniors across the country are intimately familiar with, says it’s considered a question like this before, but left it off their application out of consideration for students.

When the Common Application rejected the idea of adding questions on sexual orientation or gender identity, the organization’s board issued a statement saying that “many admission officers and secondary school counselors expressed concern regarding how this question might be perceived by students, even though it would be optional. 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.”

TEN POINTS TO GRYFFINDOR FOR THIS CAKE

Unlike most of the other underrepresented groups that are considered for things like “enrichment scholarships” and inquired about on college applications, “queer” is a group that people in a student’s home community, even their family, might not know they belong to. And it might be dangerous for them if they did. For many students looking for an extra queer-friendly campus, that’s their motivation — leaving an environment that has never been welcoming or safe. For those students, marking “yes” to Elmhurst’s question could be dangerous; and actually receiving a scholarship for belonging to a minority population that their parents didn’t know about would be worse.

But Elmhurst isn’t worried about that; Gary Rold, dean of admission, says that ”I think students who don’t want to answer it simply won’t answer it. That’s O.K.,”  Questions about race and ethnicity have long had options to not answer for students who don’t feel comfortable discussing it for personal or political reasons, and he sees this as being the same case.

It’s too soon to tell whether other schools will follow Elmhurst’s example. At a time when many schools are undergoing major funding issues and have less scholarship money than previous years, adding a new category of student to be eligible for the school’s money may be a hard sell. But at the same time, those same schools that are low on funds need more tuition money, and this might be exactly the kind of thing that helps them stand out. Elmhurst has probably gotten more press and more attention for this decision than anything else in at least the last decade.

Queer college-bound students, you have a lot of feelings about universities – do you think Elmhurst is onto something? Or would you rather wait to integrate your identity with your college experience until you can make it to campus and your first women’s rugby game?

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books as well as news and politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel currently lives in Michigan, where she teaches writing at the college level and is pursuing her MFA in fiction. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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    Hmm, interesting! Firstly I think it’s great Elmhurst is offering the scholarship… I think there are ways Elmhurst can mitigate against the potentially negative affects of answering ‘yes’ or ‘prefer not to say’. For example, clarifying the basis for asking for information, guaranteeing the answer will be handled confidentially, providing for an option to specify how the person wants to be contacted about the scholarship so hostile family or friends never find out about it…

    It would be terrible if the scholarships only got offered to queers who were in a social position to be out about it, and excluded those queers who were from really oppressive backgrounds… I think avoiding that situation would be my main concern. But I totally think diversity scholarships for queers are a great idea.

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      This. Especially since I would imagine that there’s a higher chance that queers from oppressive families might especially need the money (like if their parents don’t want to pay for them to go to college or something like that).

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    Wow! I’m elated to see this article! As one of the founding-member students who in year 2000, along with several others, actually organized the SAGE (Straights And Gays for Equality) student group, I am thrilled that Elmhurst has reached a level of recognition for such a historically repressed group as those of us happen to be born with an alternative sexuality. Makes me proud to be a graduate of Elmhurst, yet again!

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    I think this is a great idea actually. It gives the college some very useful data, and could help them recognize the need for more resources for LGBT students. I can only see more programming to aid the student body coming out of this added question.

    Also, the fact that they are doing this in order to give people scholarships is a very worthy reason. Those copies of Stone Butch Blues don’t buy themselves.

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    Interestingly enough, the UC common application had a whole page where you checked off scholarships you were interested in – everything from scholarships for 1st generation Italians, to scholarships for LGBT students. Of course, I’m sure these scholarships were being offered by outside groups, so it wasn’t like the university was directly soliciting LGBT students and perhaps admissions was not even reviewing these pages at all. But still, a slight precedent.

    In terms of Elmhurst, it is disconcerting that those kids who need the scholarship most might be most afraid to check the box and receive said scholarship. I.e. a kid in Mississippi whose parents can only afford UMississippi (not to diss Ol Miss), who wants to get out of Mississippi…well…diversity scholarship might help, but might be out of the question. That said, I wonder how “flexible” a small school like Elmhurst might be in this regard, if a student privately contacted them. It’s possible they could mask the scholarship as academic.

    Honestly, I don’t think college applications need to coddle kids. Not putting a question on an app because it might make people “anxious” is a tad silly. If merely seeing a question related to your sexual orientation is going to throw you into a panic attack, maybe you should see a therapist :P Or start setting up some free campus counseling appointments ahah.

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    Oh, and another point, the thing about scholarships in general also applies to this situation. “The thing” being that there can be unexpected downsides to being a scholarship recipient. For instance, if you receive a hefty academic scholarship, that means most of the students going to the school did not have as impressive of a resume as yourself. If you receive a scholarship for being gay, it’s likely there won’t be a ton of gay kids at the school, lol. That said, these aren’t reasons why we should stop giving out scholarships entirely.

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    If I say on a Elmhurst College application that I prefer to have sexual relations with cats for instance (which is actually no one’s business) then I may be entitled to a scholarship? WOW!!!

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      That’s right, it would be no one’s business IF you could prove that your cats actually agreed to have sex with you. Can you?
      To be honest, I have no patience for ignorant arguments like yours who draw the wildest comparisons between the life of people who happen to be born with an inclination to love someone of the same sex and criminal animal abuse. One has to wonder what must be going in your mind to actually even ask a question like this. Clearly your thinking indicates that you actually believe that it’s OK for you to basically rape a cat. You make me sick. I hope you try and get your genitals shredded by his/her sharp claws. That’ll teach you a lesson in sexual tolerance.

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