Reaching Out to LGBTQ Youth through College Admissions

Screen shot 2013-06-07 at 11.54.34 PMby W. Houston Dougharty


THE VIBE ONE gets from a college is critical. One of the most important places where that vibe is felt is the admissions office – the publications they produce, the staff that represent the campus, the opportunities they provide for incoming prospective students. Now more than ever, as the first generation of “out” LGBTQ students are graduating from high school, the admissions office needs to consider LGBTQ students as a vital recruitment population and prepare accordingly. Since admission offices and staffs represent their campuses’ values and attitudes, their response to LGBTQ questions and issues can be significant to a prospective LGBTQ student determining the LGBTQ friendliness of the campus. The following list shares ten ways for an admissions office to be visibly LGBTQ friendly and reach out to LGBTQ prospective students.


  1. CAMPUS POLICIES  Campus policies say a lot about campus values. LGBTQ prospective students pay close attention to policies and want to know this information. The admissions office should visibly publish their campus nondiscrimination policy in print publications and on the internet. If a campus fails to include the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identify or expression” in their policy this raises a red flag for prospective LGBTQ students. Admissions staff should be prepared to answer questions about the campus position on LGBTQ issues, especially the nondiscrimination policy. Another telling issue for LGBTQ students is the domestic partnership policy for same-sex couples (which relates to health insurance, housing, and educational benefits).


Possible Questions: Are sexual orientation and gender identity/expression included in your campus nondiscrimination policies? Are there same-sex domestic partnership benefits for your students, staff, and faculty?


  1. THE APPLICATION ITSELF   How can a college application be queer friendly? One place is the “Family” section where applicants are asked to list family members. Does it assume that heterosexist norm and ask about “Father” and “Mother” or is language used that allows for other families (like “Parent” and “Parent”)? Many students come from families that do not include a father and mother and it’s meaningful if an application is sensitive to that reality. Applications for admission should also consider being trans and gender variant-inclusive by offering a broader gender identification, rather than just female and male.


Possible Questions: Does your application allow LGBTQ families and students to be openly represented? Can I change my name and gender identification easily in the campus registrar’s office?


  1. ACADEMIC COURSES AND PROGRAMS      Many LGBTQ students gain the queer sense of a college by perusing the lists of classes that are offered. Many campuses offer courses that are LGBTQ related, like Studies in Lesbian and Gay Literature at Puget Sound (WA), Sociology of Lesbian and Gay Communities at University of California – Santa Barbara, Music and Queer Identity at Cornell University (NY), and Human Sexual Identities at Allegheny College (PA). Colleges also offer concentrations, minors, and even majors in LGBT, queer, or gender studies, like San Francisco State, SUNY – Purchase, Bowdoin College (ME), and Western Washington University. Admissions office staff should not only be aware of these courses but also be able to articulate openly without hesitation about such opportunities.


Possible Questions: What queer-related courses do you offer? Who teaches them? Are the classes open to all students or are they discipline-specific to students majoring in certain areas?


  1. PUBLICATIONS, WEBSITES, PHOTOS, AND LANGUAGE                Much information is conveyed through the print and web media that colleges produce (and bombard prospects with daily!). The admissions office should pay close attention to these important publications and Websites – particularly noting the images and language that are used. Are all the glossy photos of straight couples holding hands and sitting by fountains? Are there images that are LGBTQ-friendly or at least orientation neutral? Colleges that are sensitive to LGBTQ prospective students try not to use heterosexist images images and language. Are all the LGBTQ campus organizations listed where other campus involvement and activities are touted? Treat LGBTQ students like you might other targeted recruitment populations (e.g., student athletes, international students, students of color). The admissions office should create materials to target LGBTQ students specifically and make sure all admission materials are LGBTQ sensitive and inclusive.


Possible Questions: In which publications can I find your LGBTQ resources? Where can I find online LGBTQ campus and local community resources?


  1. STAFF ATTITUDE AND LANGUAGE             When admissions staff give presentations and conduct interviews, their attitude and language should make LGBTQ prospective students feel welcomed and affirmed. For instance, when admissions officers describe their campus climate and diversity, they should go out of their way to talk about LGBTQ policies, organizations, events, and/or courses. The same holds true for campus tour guides and hosts. Every staff member should feel comfortable with the language as well as competent in the subject matter.


Possible Questions: How is diversity defined on your campus? How long has “diversity” included sexual orientation and gender identity/expression?


  1. SCHOLARSHIPS AND FINANCIAL AID                     Financing college is often a challenge and admissions officers are excellent resources about how a campus approaches financial assistance. Many colleges offer scholarships that are specifically designed for LGBTQ students, such as those at Rice (TX), Utah State, Puget Sound (WA), HOFSTRA (NY), Duke (NC), University of the Pacific (CA), Iowa Sate, and Southern California. Some colleges, like Bridgewater State (MA), also have financial aid programs for LGBTQ students who need more funding because their families are non supportive. Admissions officers need to understand the needs and possible financial circumstances of LGBTQ students. Some may not have any financial support at all due to negative reactions of their family. Each LGBTQ student will be different, but be sensitive to such issues and be prepared to offer specific LGBTQ financial resources from your campus community.


Possible Questions: How can I take advantage of all possible financial aid opportunities at your campus? Are there any LGBTQ scholarships at your campus?


  1. STUDENT LIFE SUPPORT                 Campuses have student services staff who are responsible for areas like housing, medical and counseling services, activities, community service, and support for subpoplulations of students. Colleges that are eager to enroll LGBTQ students work hard at making sure that queer students are comfortable and supported on campus – in the residence halls, in student government and clubs, and with staff. In many cases campuses have established LGBTQ centers – like at Grinnell (IA), American (DC), Cal Poly-Pomona, Emory (GA), Colorado State, UCLA, and Stanford (CA). A growing number of campuses also have LGBTQ centers as well as various LGBTQ student organizations and student activities. Be knowledgeable about what your campus offers and showcase such offerings visibly for LGBTQ students. These programs and services are all bonuses to attract LGBTQ students to your campus and say a lot about LGBTQ friendliness.


Possible Questions: How does your student affairs staff support LGBTQ students? Do you have any LGBTQ theme floors in the residence halls? What are the LGBTQ organizations on campus and their annual events?



  1. OUT FACULTY, STAFF, AND STUDENTS      Every college has an LGBTQ population – every last one of them (even those colleges that are actively anti-LGBTQ). The question is are people out on campus? It makes sense for LGBTQ students to want to be on a campus where they can be themselves, be welcomed, be supported, and be part of a community. LGBTQ-affirming admissions officers will know who is out on campus. They should be willing to connect prospective students with out students, staff, faculty, and alumni who will be resources to prospects as they try to find a good college “fit”.


Possible Questions: How easy is it to be out on your campus? Are there out members of your     campus community who would tell me about LGBTQ life on campus?


  1. COLLEGE FAIRS AND CAMPUS VISITS                    Two popular ways of learning about colleges are college fairs and campus visits. While nearly every town has a college fair where many different campuses are represented, there are currently only a few college fairs designed just for LGBTQ prospective students. These events have met with great success in the Twin Cities (MN) and the Boston area. It is predicted that such LGBTQ-specific fairs will only continue to grow in frequency and numbers over the next few years. Also, campus visits may be individually arranged (during which prospects can visit classes, tour campus, stay overnight, meet and interview with an admissions officer) or there may be larger events for prospects or those who have been accepted. In either case, admissions staff members should provide opportunities for LGBTQ students to explore campus and talk to LGBTQ members of the campus community – from current students to faculty to alumni.


Possible Questions: Can I meet with LGBTQ students, staff, or faculty on your campus? Are there special days to visit where I can attend an event that is LGBTQ-related?


  1. CAMPUS EVENTS AND CULTURE                Campuses that are LGBTQ-affirming are proactive about sponsoring LGBTQ-related activities. There are many lecturers, comedians, artists, and musicians who are out and often incorporate queer issues into their presentations and performances. At many colleges these events have become a natural part of cultural and academic programming, which is an excellent sign that the campus is LGBTQ-friendly. Some campuses have established LGBTQ-specific programming and traditions (like Lavender Graduation at Michigan, UCLA, and Puget Sound; Small Victories at Iowa State; LGBTQ Film Series at Bucknell; and Ally or Safe Space/Zone programs on hundreds of campuses, in addition to celebrating shared events like National Coming Out Day, Pride Month, World AIDS Day, Blue Jeans Day, and Freedom to Marry Day. As admissions staff, know as much as possible about these campus events and LGBTQ culture, including their past success as well as any future plans for more LGBTQ events.


Possible Questions: What events or programs does your campus sponsor for LGBTQ students? How does your campus community recognize national LGBTQ events and celebrations? Are there any upcoming LGBTQ lecturers, comedians, or musicians coming to campus?


The first generation of “out” college students stand ready at the front gates to the campus. These students are outstanding scholars, leaders, athletes, and artists. Admissions offices are finally     realizing that LGBTQ-prospective students are valuable to target with recruitment efforts to their             campuses. As admissions staff, it is important to know what LGBTQ policies, services, and programs your campus offers as well as be able to respond openly to any questions with LGBTQ-friendly answers. Remember the first impression by the admissions office may determine   whether or not your college or university is the queer choice.



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