MORE COMMENTARY INSIDE:
Veterans Deserve a Chance to Be Rhodes Scholars: Page A28
Students who served in the armed forces may be ineligible to apply because
of age limits for applicants, writes Mitchell B. Reiss.
A Fresh Start for College Sports: Page A29
As the NCAA faces criticism on many fronts, it’s clear that high-profile collegiate
athletic programs need a major overhaul, says Kenneth A. Shaw.
By S. Alan Ray
WHEN WE DECIDED this year to make one of our routine annual revisions in the application for undergraduate admission at Elmhurst College, we weren’t expecting to make national headlines as a result. But we did.
Despite the Controversy, We’re Glad We Asked
What landed Elmhurst in the media spotlight last month was
a new application question. Like some others, the ques-
tion was optional. It asked: “Would you consider yourself a
member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender)
Like many other institutions, our private liberal-arts col-
lege in Chicago’s western suburbs, long affiliated with the
United Church of Christ, has included optional questions
on our admission applications for many years. They ask
about matters like ethnic identity, religious affiliation, and
languages spoken at home. But this new question generated
levels of interest and controversy that those other questions
Our revised application became news when the national
organization Campus Pride sent out a press release congratulating us for “setting the bar” by becoming the first college
in the United States to ask prospective undergraduates about
sexual orientation and gender identity on its application. The
Campus Pride release was quickly followed by articles in
newspapers, segments on national radio shows, and stories
on major news-media Web sites. We hadn’t sought this wave
of publicity, but we were proud to have so much attention
focused on our efforts to build a campus that is diverse, open,
and affirming to all students.
Of course, the coverage also occasioned some commentary
that challenged our wisdom and motivation. That the new
application question produced some controversy will not surprise anyone familiar with online comment strings and call-in radio, which too often are more about heat than light. The
application question had placed us in the middle of a national
discussion about diversity and sexual identity—one that continues to stir passions and challenge established beliefs.
Perhaps the most common question I heard from our
supportive but surprised friends was simply this: Why did
we do it? One way of explaining is simply to quote our
application, which notes that Elmhurst is “committed to
diversity and connecting underrepresented students with
valuable resources on campus.” For years we have asked
students about their personal interests, high-school activi-
ties, and faith traditions, among other things, so we can
connect them with campus support and gauge their eligibil-
ity for certain opportunities, including scholarships.
S. Alan Ray is president and a professor of religion and society at Elmhurst College.