Christian College Asks Applicants: Are You a Member of the LGBT Community?

We all know there’s an awful relationship between Christian schools and LGBT students. At some schools, the mere mention that you like someone of the same sex will cause the Christian Police to come after you (reparative therapy, anyone?)…

At some schools, like Harding University in Arkansas, anonymous gay students put out an ezine with their stories. Even at evangelical stronghold Wheaton College, there’s now a community of LGBTQ and ally students. Still, these students have to remain anonymous or risk facing almost-certain expulsion.

Now, Elmhurst College in the western suburbs of Chicago — a school affiliated with the liberal United Church of Christ — is heading in the right direction. They’re the first college in the country that is directly asking students about their sexual orientation on the application (PDF) — “Would you consider yourself to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?” — and they’re using the optional data for good:

“Increasing diversity is part of our mission statement,” said Gary Rold, Elmhurst’s dean of admissions. “This is simply closing the loop, in many ways, of another group who has a very strong identity. It may not be race and religion but it’s an important part of who they are.”

Those who answer “yes” may be eligible for a scholarship worth up to one-third of tuition, not unusual because about 60 percent of incoming students receive some type of scholarship aid, Rold said. More importantly, he said, knowing students’ sexual orientation will help officials direct incoming students toward services or groups that might help them make an easier transition to college life.

“We try really hard to take good care of students, have them graduate and be successful citizens in the world,” he said. “The only way you do that is to meet people where they really are.”

Some applicants still may not like seeing the question there and decide not to apply at all, but by embracing students’ sexuality, Elmhurst — which I’m happy to say has a strong Secular Student Alliance affiliate — will probably receive far more applicants as a result.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    I’d be concerned about a change of heart or a new college president/dean/etc. that decides to reverse the policy and use the collected information to expel students.

    • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

      Fortunately, that sounds like it’d be a very easy lawsuit to win, and this doesn’t sound like the kind of school in danger of handing the reins to an ultra-fundamentalist. It sounds more like my university – theoretically a Christian school, but that’s just an artifact of who founded it a hundred years ago, not reflective of its present and very secular reality. 

      However I don’t think any Christian schools expel students for *being* gay, only for *having gay sex* or at least holding hands and spreading cooties. It’s a subtle difference, yes… 

  • Dave Buchfuhrer

    That’s a really weird way to word the question. I bet a lot of straight people consider themselves part of the LGBT community.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

    I am bi, and not exactly clear on the justification for giving scholarships because you answered “yes.” LGBT students do not as a class come from a group that has a majority of poor people, which I’ve understood is part of the justification for scholarships based on ethnicity. 

    If it were anonymous data collected for demographic info, and to be able to say “see, we have a diverse population,” sure, fine, whatever. But I’m skeptical about it being attached to the student’s name.

  • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

    Okay, I admit, that story didn’t end the negative way I thought it would!

    The one time in my life I was asked by some paperwork what my orientation was, I lied, because it was Christian Counseling that I was being forced to attend by a parent who decided I was “troubled” instead of addressing what was making me depressed. Ironically that parent ragequit taking me to the counseling because they weren’t “Christian enough” anyway, so I probably could have been honest with that counselor, but I didn’t know that when I was handed the questionnaire. 

    Get this: the reason they weren’t “Christian enough” is that the counselor, in a joint session with my parent and I, casually mentioned “bla bla bla keep in mind your daughter is legally an adult… for example, hypothetically, if your daughter wanted to move out of your house and in with her fiance, you can’t stop her; she’s an adult.” 

    That made my parent very, very angry. And they wonder why everyone says they’re a control freak. 

  • Erp

    It would have to lose its affiliation with the United Church of Christ first, probably the most gay positive (and otherwise liberal) of the mainline Christian denominations.  LGBTI students are probably safer there than in a state university.

  • Istj04

    Why would ANYONE be “out” about being a “member of the LGBT community” and be GOING TO A CHRISTIAN COLLEGE? Makes about as much sense as being “out” about being Jewish in Nazi Germany after the Holocaust started! 

    • ACN

      UCoC is VERY LGBTQ friendly.

    • Anonymous

      I question applying to a Christian college knowing you’re gay, but just like with the military, a lot of people only figure out they are gay after they joined. Or they know they might be, but are uncomfortable with it and/or suppress it. The late teens and early 20s is exactly when many people figure out their sexuality, gay or straight.

    • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

      Wow, so you assume all Christians are gay-hating fundamentalists or something? The ones I got stuck with were, but that is extremely far from the truth. This school is an affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance. They’re clearly about as fundamental as my hat. Godwinning is just… rude. 

    • Drew M.

      This is quite possibly the most retarded application of Godwin’s Law, ever.

      Well done.

    • Drew M.

      This is quite possibly the most retarded application of Godwin’s Law, ever.

      Well done.

  • otakumommy

    That’s awesome! Let’s hope other colleges follow the lead. I would have greatly appreciated some sort of direction (resources, groups) when I entered college in 93, being so apprehensive about socializing openly with the LGBT community. 

  • http://diaryofamessylady.wordpress.com/ Lauren

    I think it’s awesome that a Christian college is breaking ground on this. It can be very difficult for young LGBT Christians to feel loved and accepted given the Old Testament environment that many are surrounded with.

    Not only is it awesome for this church, but I think it also puts the lie to the “love” that the LGBT-hating fundamentalists spew.

  • Craig Hart

    I support the LGBT community and think they face a lot of crap by small-minded people. However, I personally don’t think the question should be asked at all, no matter what the intention. To attempt diversity by “choosing” which students to admit based on anything other than academic achievement is a very dangerous path. Like an earlier person said, suppose the leadership changed their stance – they’d still have the data. And besides, by choosing someone based on sexual orientation you unavoidably discriminate against the other side. Better to leave it off the application altogether.

    • Guest

      +1

    • Brian Utterback

      Virtually all colleges use criteria other than academic achievement to decide on admission. Many have diversity as a goal, some are looking for the “right” mix of students. Most admissions boards will tell you it is more of an art than a science.

      • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

        This is true, but I believe what Craig is getting at is: should that be the norm?

      • Craig Hart

        Stealing First Base is right. I’m not denying it happens. I just don’t think it should.

  • Rich Wilson

    “We try really hard to take good care of students, have them graduate and be successful citizens in the world”

    Does “embracing your own sexuality” equate to “successful” in their minds?  My only concern would be that the programs they direct LGBT students to will “love the sinner,  hate the sin”.

    • http://www.miketheinfidel.com/ MikeTheInfidel

      That would definitely not be the case for a UCC-associated school. The UCC has an official Open & Affirming policy, meaning that sexual orientation is absolutely not an issue for anything associated with them. They’re an incredibly liberal church; it’s the one I grew up in.

  • PJB863

    I’ll add my two cents here:  It’s a good thing that this is on the application.  1) there are LGBT groups that have scholarship programs for LGBT kids.  2) it allows the college to identify LGBT students and connect them with groups and mentors.

  • Allison Wolf

    @NathanDST:disqus , I don’t know about retention rates for LGBT students and how they stack up, but one thing many colleges do is try to identify the students they consider at higher risk. Usually if we can show that we’re improving stats among any cohort, that’s a good thing, and often scholarships come with other sorts of tie-ins to support networks. If Elmhurst thinks that it would be a good idea to hook students up with resources in an organized way, that could be worthwhile.

    Hemant, I’m not sure what “the suburbs of western Illinois” means. Do you mean that it’s in the suburbs of Chicago? I’m just asking because western Illinois is a lot of territory…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Whoops. Typo on my part. Fixed now. Thanks!

  • Allison Wolf

    @NathanDST:disqus , I don’t know about retention rates for LGBT students and how they stack up, but one thing many colleges do is try to identify the students they consider at higher risk. Usually if we can show that we’re improving stats among any cohort, that’s a good thing, and often scholarships come with other sorts of tie-ins to support networks. If Elmhurst thinks that it would be a good idea to hook students up with resources in an organized way, that could be worthwhile.

    Hemant, I’m not sure what “the suburbs of western Illinois” means. Do you mean that it’s in the suburbs of Chicago? I’m just asking because western Illinois is a lot of territory…

  • http://www.nowhere-fast.net Tom

    I know that this isn’t the main issue, and I’m definitely in favor of scholarships in general, and I feel as though any group should be able to award scholarships as they choose, but something in me thinks that the school itself, as an institution, should award their limited scholarship money based on need, ability and desire to work hard rather then sexual orientation.  Admittedly I haven’t been looking at scholarship programs for many years, so this might be the standard now and I’m just out of the loop.

  • Anonymous

    Another problem I don’t see mentioned is ‘lying’. Will some students looking for an edge say they are LGBT to increase their odds. 

    It would increase diversity by adding students without integrity to the mix.

    • JakeP

      This is probably easier to lie about than, say, being part native American or something. However, I’d assume you’d have to be quite gay friendly anyway to pull it off. Even for money, straight people rarely pretend to be gay these days. Still too much stigma I think.

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

      The article says that the question will not be considered in the admissions decisions.  It just affects scholarships, and plenty of other people get scholarships.

  • Brian Utterback

    I know that some colleges ask this question to help in dorm assignment. Just as there used to be single sex vs. co-ed dorms, now some colleges have designated LGBT dorms. While it is a less than ideal solution, it apparently works reasonably well. I guess the reasoning is that members of LGBT community will tend to be tolerant of one another, while those that have difficulty with it can be segregated away.

  • Qwerty

    Anecdote.  Ah, good old Elmhurst College.  I went there for one semester, after completing two years at Wheaton College, a much more religious institution down the road a piece.  I guess it was my first step in shedding my teenage religiousity.  The one course I remember was a marketing course where the professor was kind of proud of the fact that he was part of the marketing team for the Ford Edsel. 

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    I hate to be a downer, but this is hardly a surprise coming from the uber-liberal United Church of Christ. If this were an evangelical college, I’d be mightily impressed, but it’s not. It’s not even in the same category as Wheaton or Harding. The people who run those schools consider themselves to be “real” Christians. To them, progressive Christians are not even a blip on the radar. They’re not considered legitimate expressions of Christianity. When evangelicals talk about a “Christian college,” Elmhurst isn’t the type of school they have in mind.

  • IndyCub

    Im not even sure if I would have been prepared to check that box before freshman year. Perhaps by mid junior year …

  • Anonymous

    If this weren’t a Christian college would it be an issue?  If they wanted to know what student’s sexual orientation was in order to provide better services, direct scholarships, meet diversity targets, etc then would this be a reasonable question to ask.  I think it would.  I wouldn’t answer it because it’s none of their business but I still think that it is worth asking.

    The fact that a Christian college is asking doesn’t change that.  If they have ulterior motives then they are acting dishonourably but we can’t and shouldn’t assume that just because they are Christian they are dishonourable. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregm766 Gregory Marshall

    When answering that question they should go with the response that Bill Murray and Harold Ramis gave in “Stripes”.

    Recruiter “Are you homosexual?”
    Bill and Harold: “No, but are willing to learn”.


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