Oregon Colleges Could Begin to Ask Students About Sexual Orientation

In Oregon, newly passed House Bill 2995 will allow students faculty and staff to identify their sexual orientation on forms used to collect demographic information that includes gender, race and ethnicity in public universities and community colleges, reports Queenie Wong of the Statesman Journal.

The idea originated from Steven Leider, an Oregon State graduate student, who has researched lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students who have been disassociated from their parents after coming out.

Leider proposed the idea for the bill to Rep. Sara Gelser in order to collect more data about LGBTQ students — data Leider says is currently lacking and could help close gaps in higher education research about the LGBTQ community, from recruitment and student retention to graduation and drop out rates.

“This dearth of demographic data severely hinders any kind of empirical research from being conducted about this largely invisible student population,” Leider told the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee.

According to Basic Rights Oregon, currently it is not prohibited for public colleges to ask questions about sexual orientation on college applications and other forms, but supporters of the bill hope that it will create more consistency and interest in data collection in the future.

According to supporters of the bill, answers about sexual orientation given by students, teachers and faculty will be kept anonymous and answering these questions will be optional.

Student organizations support the bill and feel it will help with bullying on campuses, which, according to a 2008 survey conducted by the Oregon Student Equal Rights Alliance and Basic Rights Education Fund, is a very real problem. They identified a hostile climate surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity as a post-secondary education barrier for LGBTQ students.

It may also prove helpful for schools to have more of a feel for the schools LGTBQ population so they can properly address their needs.

“Not everyone wears a big neon sign to explain their sexuality to others so it can be difficult to accurately assess the needs and experiences of students without making a concerted effort to hear from them, especially those students who choose to conceal their identity,” said Dave Coburn, the legislative director for the Associated Students of Portland State University.

The bill was passed on April 17 by a 41-19 vote with opposition coming from Republicans. Now the bill is in the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee for review.

Elmhurst College in Illinois became the first college in the country to ask prospective students about sexual orientation and gender identity on applications in 2011, and in 2012 the University of Iowa and the first public university to ask applicants about sexual orientation.