Updated: 12:03 p.m. EST, April 26, 2016
“We must be held accountable to the retention and academic success of all our students. It doesn’t just get better, we have to do better. These optional questions will help us do better as institutions of higher learning.”
The Universal College Application (UCA) powered by ApplicationsOnline, LLC announced today that the standardized form for 2016-17 will include a modification to its question about the sex of an applicant as well as add a new gender identity question. The modified question relating to the sex of an applicant continues to be a required question and changes from simply asking “Sex” to now asking “Legal Sex.” The options continue to be either “Female” or “Male”, and the applicant must choose one response. The new Gender Identity question is optional, and the choices are “Woman”, “Man”, “Self-Identify” (with a free form text field). This enhancement to the Universal College Application provides applicants with another opportunity to more freely describe themselves. The 2016/2017 Universal College Application with the new change will be available online July 1, 2016 at https://www.universalcollegeapp.com/
On the same day, The Common Application announced on its website that students applying for the 2016-17 application will have “the ability to express their gender identity in several ways including within the Profile page, optional free response text field, as well as in member colleges’ specific sections.” Campus Pride and over two dozen LGBTQ youth, higher education and youth advocacy organizations formally submitted an open letter in August 2015 requesting that The Common Application add optional questions related to gender identity and sexual orientation to its standard form for college admission. Neither The Common Application nor The Universal College Application added an optional question related to sexual orientation on their standardized forms.
According to the Universal College Application, the addition is a result of its members as well as educational efforts by Campus Pride and the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals.
“The Universal College Application is being responsive to today’s diverse student population by adding the gender identity question,” said Shane Windmeyer, Executive Director of Campus Pride. “We need this information to ensure we are supporting all students’ academic experiences. Campus Pride applauds the Universal College Application for being the first to do so on their standardized form.”
The Common Application denied repeated requests to add LGBTQ optional identity questions in 2011 and prior, stating that it might review the concept “later this decade.” Asked about The Common Application, Windmeyer said, “I am proud that our work to advocate for LGBTQ students has led to The Common Application following suit with the Universal College Application. This is all about safety of our students and holding institutions accountable for academic retention and success. I’m glad it did not take a ‘decade’ for The Common Application to realize that this was the right thing to do.”
According to The Common Application, their changes will offer an optional free response text field, to give students a place to further describe their gender identity. Additionally, within the Profile screen, the sex question will be updated to “sex assigned at birth.”
Windmeyer did express concern about The Common Application choosing to update the “sex” question with the language “sex assigned at birth.” It is unclear why they chose to do so and he stated “it is problematic.” He also noted that an open-ended field is an inclusive approach; however, it will be challenging for data collection with gender identity. Unlike the Universal College Application, he noted that The Common Application never consulted the Campus Pride team of researchers regarding their question wording. The Campus Pride research team includes leading campus experts Dr. Genny Beemy and Dr. Sue Rankin.
Campus Pride believes one of the motivating reasons for the Universal College Application and The Common Application adding the optional gender identity question is largely due to the “clarified” legal concerns around Title IX Compliance. In 2014, the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education made clear that transgender students are protected from discrimination under Title IX, as follows: “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation.”
Windmeyer concluded, “It is now even more important that we standardize optional identity questions for LGBQ students related to sexual orientation. We must be held accountable to the retention and academic success of all our students. It doesn’t just get better, we have to do better. These optional questions will help us do better as institutions of higher learning.”
Learn more about suggested best practices for language on how colleges and universities can include optional LGBTQ identity question in research and on college admission forms. Also find a list of colleges and universities that have added optional LGBTQ identity questions on their college admission and enrollment forms.
Campus Pride is the leading national educational organization for LGBTQ and ally college students and campus groups building future leaders and safer, more LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. The organization provides resources and services to thousands of college students and nearly 1400 campuses annually. Learn more online at CampusPride.org.