More colleges and universities are looking to start collecting demographic data on students’ sexual orientation the same way they have been collecting students’ gender and ethnicity information for decades. Although individual colleges like Elmhurst College in Illinois and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge have adopted such data collection policies over the last few years, this fall will be the first time that an entire public system will do so. Half a million students enrolled in the Washington State Community and Technical College System will be asked to voluntarily identify their sexual orientation and gender identity when they fill out their registration forms.
As Lauren Ingeno of Inside Higher Ed explains, the person who is part of a group to initially propose that Washington State community colleges start collecting this information – current University of Washington student Matthew Shrader – hopes that it will accelerate the trend of other university systems across the country adopting similar policies. Shrader was one of five students to pitch the plan to the schools in 2011 when he was a student at South Puget Sound Community College.
The benefit of adding questions about sexual orientation and gender identity is twofold, Mr Shrader said. First, it allows colleges to gather data about LGBTQ students and track their academic success, enrollment and retention rates. This in turn can help college administrators better understand what support services, resources and activities they can provide to serve students in the LGBTQ community. The reason for asking, some educators say, is similar to the reasons colleges have for years asked about race, ethnicity and gender — to track successes and failures at recruiting and graduating different groups of students.
According to Ingeno, collecting demographic data on LGBQT students could prod schools into taking the needs of their non-heteronormative students more seriously. Those who support the data collection believe that without it, meeting those needs would be a lower priority for colleges and universities because the presence of LGBQT students on campus isn’t as visible as those of different racial or ethnic backgrounds.
Jorge Valencia, who leads the Point Foundation, an organization that offers scholarships to LGBQT youth, thinks that schools have overlooked this particular community to the detriment of the entire campus.
The executive director of Campus Pride, Shane Windmeyer, also praised the Washington community colleges. “Right now colleges do not know the academic retention and success rates of LGBT student populations — who encounter high rates of harassment [and] bias as well as encounter many high at-risk health concerns. Every college has the responsibility to address these issues and the time is now,” said a statement from Mr Windmeyer on the Campus Pride website.