In what critics are saying could constitute a pretty significant invasion of privacy, the much-lauded California state college and university system is laying out a plan to ask students what genitals their genitals most like to nuzzle up against on either their application or enrollment forms. According to the Los Angeles Times, if the California schools move forward with their new method of categorizing students, they would become the largest group of schools to do so in the country, though Illinois Elmhurst college beat the progressive West Coast to the punch last fall when it asked applicants about their sexual orientation.
California school administrators are considering including such questions on official forms in light of a little-known state law aimed at gauging LGBT populations on college campuses and ensuring whether UC or Cal State schools are offering those students enough counseling services. According to the UC system's interim coordinator Jesse Bernal, "It would be useful to know if we are underserving the [LGBT] population." He added that giving students the opportunity to answer questions about their sexual orientation "sends a positive message of inclusiveness to LGBT students and creates an environment that is inclusive and welcoming of diverse populations."
It could also, warns State Senator Tom Harman (Republican and Huntington Beach surfer dude), constitute an invasion of privacy. Harman voted against a law last fall that calls for schools to discourage bullying and harassment of LGBT students, and also suggests (but doesn't require) students and staff "to identify their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression" on any official forms used to collect demographic data. That law, the impetus behind the statewide effort to include sexual orientation questions on college forms, came from an earlier report showing that gay and lesbian UC students had higher rates of depression than their peers and weren't having their "unique and specific" educational needs met.
College applications, however, can be viewed by parents, which has prompted some faculty members to criticize the new questions as too intrusive, since coming out to mom and dad through a college application is probably not the best way for an incoming freshman to leave the family nest and go discover his or herself. Proponents of the new questions, such as student government activist Andrew Albright of UC Berkeley, say that while prospective students may be initially nervous about answering such personal questions, the potential benefits to such data-collecting (like increased and focused student services), outweigh any invasiveness (the questions are confidential). "I think in general it's a good thing," said Albright, "Beyond counseling services, professors might alter approaches to various lectures if they know a sizable percentage of the class is gay or lesbian."
In 2010, a UC Undergraduate Experience Survey found that 87 percent of students in a voluntary poll identified themselves as heterosexual, 3 percent as homosexual or "self-identified queer," 3 percent as bisexual, and 1 percent as "questioning" or unsure. Gathering more information in order to help an often marginalized minority shows the beginnings of an earnest effort to take the LGBT specific concerns of a student community into consideration, but how many high school seniors will admit — or even yet realize — if they're gay? Asking students to self-identify only further reduces the future overeducated and unemployed twenty-somethings of America to check marks in printed boxes on an official form, hopefully so colleges can direct more funds to LGBT organizations around their campuses, but more likely so that those schools can have a more thorough demographic pie chart to include in the following year's brochures.