My interests in LGBT issues and higher ed policy dovetailed recently (and yielded what I think is a great pun in the title of this post!) with the announcement that Penn will use applicants’ references to LGBT-related causes, activities, and identification to do outreach to queer students, much as college and university admissions frequently do for other minority groups, from students of color to women in science to scholar-athletes. And the awkward and silly thing about being involved in however small a capacity in institutional policy at an Ivy League school is that when you read about one Ivy League school changing a policy, you immediately wonder whether it’s something you could and should implement at your own school. (Well, I feel this way, anyway.) And so I feel moved to pose a question, dear reader: should Princeton follow Penn’s lead in tracking and doing outreach to LGBT applicants, and how should it do this?
Now, I’d argue that in my anecdotal experience Princeton is already helping LGBT applicants along with the other populations of “non-traditional” applicants which it helps. Half the reason I am now wondering what Princeton should be doing in this regard is because in April 2008, when I was a prospective student visiting Princeton for the weekend, my host brought me to an event at the LGBT Center. I may not have identified as gay then, or been as explicitly and consistently involved in LGBT community as I am now, but knowing that there was an LGBT Center at Princeton and that my host (who is not gay herself) wasn’t shy about going there or inviting me to come made me feel like I could be comfortable here. It was the entire reason I made my decision to come here—and I feel like there might have been some intent behind the hosting program pairing me with the host that they did. Similarly, now that I’m on the other side of the hosting process, I write in to tell the program that I’m interested in hosting LGBT students or anyone else apprehensive of coming to Princeton for social-politics-related reasons. Sometimes they go to Yale (not that I blame them), but sometimes they come here—and I think the fact that I’m the one who hosts them is far from coincidental, given the willingness that I express to host those kids.
And so when there are preferences expressed, the administration tends to heed them—because it’s in their best interests, and in accordance with their stated institutional policy to diversify undergraduate culture, to do so. And maybe this could be done to a greater extent—I don’t know to what extent undergrad admissions does specific outreach to members of other minority groups during the admissions office, so it would be hard for me to say whether they should adjust their policies to include LGBT students too. However, Negative Nancy that I am, I am more concerned about who will be left out by such a policy than who will be brought into the fold by it.
As most of my readers are probably aware, more and more teenagers are coming out in high school—or when they’re even younger! Some of my readers, I believe, are out high schoolers themselves, or were; some of my readers are straight allies involved in their schools’ GSAs or LGBT community life in the cities and towns where they live. LGBT youth culture is now a constituent part of LGBT culture as a whole, a recent and exciting development in the variegated experience of being queer in America. And yet for all that many teenagers are out, I’d go so far as to suggest that most aren’t. Most of the kids I know from high school who are now out in college didn’t go to GSA meetings or go to citywide queer-community events—hell, I certainly didn’t! Back in high school, I thought your sexual orientation wasn’t something you put on a college application. I thought it was something you talked about in furtive late-night AIM conversations, or knew in the back of your mind when you saw how uncannily you could relate to the characters in books you read. I’m not sure, when I was applying to colleges, if I would have answered an optional sexual orientation identification question, and if I had I probably would have hovered over the radio buttons such a question would no doubt require you to choose between. When I came to college, I starting identifying myself to others as “gay” instead of as “bisexual,” with intermittent spurts of asexuality in between. When I was 17, would I have been able to choose a radio button? Or would I have declined to, unsure which letter in “LGBT” best described me? Would I have declined to, unsure whether selecting any of them would have made me seem too “unprofessional” for a college application?
And this is me we’re talking about! Two years later, I’m the gayest of the gay at this college where I wound up, making a life out of nonchalantly throwing around the word “sodomy” at the dinner table. What about the others? How does the admissions office reach out to a kid who hasn’t come out to him- or her- or hirself, a kid who after two years in college still lives in fear of being found out? How does the admissions office reach out to the queer kids who are out, but who are so desperate not to make their outness a defining point of their identity that they would run away from such overtures of community? It’s a tricky line to navigate, that’s for sure—as tricky as are any of the lines we deal with when we create or don’t create queer community at Princeton.
I am reminded, once again, of the big gulf between knowing you’re different and knowing you’re queer, particularly when you’re sixteen or seventeen and being different is such an all-consuming torture that it’s hard to understand it as anything else or anything more sharply-defined. I am reminded, once again, of the time Before, the time when I was still trying to get a seat at the popular kids’ table—I hadn’t yet realized that it was possible to go start a table of my own. And I truly am not sure what I would have done, then, if Princeton had asked me to select a sexual orientation.
Well. With that, I’m off to talk about Mary Wollstonecraft’s attitude towards homoeroticism. High school, after all, was a full universe ago.
3 thoughts on “Admissions (Out)reach; or, Policy Which Lends Itself to Ridiculous Puns”
If the sexuality radio button options were left explicitly and entirely optional, and included other self-identity categories like gender identity and race/ethnicity, then no one would be forced to single themselves out, while at the same time expressing the U’s awareness and acceptance of these “categories of difference.”
Before I came out, I was highly sensitive to how accepting I thought people would be; if they asked about my boyfriend, their presumption of my heterosexuality was a red flag. Keeping the question gender neutral = safer place, even if I never came out to that person. Acknowledging that the differences exist, and giving folks the freedom to identify or not I think would be very, very cool.
My constant fear is that we are replacing one corrosive and violent orthodoxy with a much less damaging, much preferable one– but an orthodoxy all the same. Its dangers are far less immediate and far less severe, and for that I’m glad. Still I think the seduction of thinking in binaries– even a never ending host of binaries– should be resisted, and we should approach the new moment with pause. My participation in the movement for gay equality is paramount to my political person, but like all other such particularities it is antecedent to the movement of liberation. If the mainstream gay rights movement becomes an enemy of the spirit of liberation it will be a real loss, I think.