IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa has become the nation’s first public university to ask incoming students about their gender identity and sexual orientation in an effort to identify and support LGBT students.
The school announced it will add an optional question on sexual orientation, and a transgender choice under gender, as part of an effort to make its undergraduate application one that sends a welcoming signal to all students — and to gather information about the institution’s success at attracting and retaining students who aren’t straight, reported Inside Higher Ed.
University officials say the move is intended to send a strong signal that they value the diversity that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students bring to campus.
They say that knowing some students’ sexual orientation will allow them to track their enrollment and graduation rates and promote housing, student groups and programs that might improve their social and academic success.
LGBT student advocacy group Campus Pride hailed the decision.
“The move by University of Iowa administrators to include these specific LGBT identity questions represent a growing paradigm shift in higher education to actively recognize out LGBT youth populations and to exercise greater responsibility for LGBT student safety, retention and academic success,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride.
“For the first time, a major, public and national research university has taken efforts to identify their LGBT students from the very first moment those students have official contact with them. This is definite progress in the right direction — and deserves praise.”
The new college admission application asks an optional question — “Do you identify with the LGBTQ Community?” — and offers “Transgender” as an additional gender option.
The questions will be used to determine incoming students’ needs, track retention rates, potential interest in campus programs, and to offer support resources. The optional identity question appears in a section of other optional questions asking students about family connections to the university, parents’ educational background, interest in ROTC programs, and interest in fraternities and sororities.
The university framed its announcement as in line with its prior leadership in civil rights. The university was the first public school to offer insurance benefits to employees’ domestic partners, and in 1855 became the first public university in the United States to admit men and women on an equal basis.
Iowa is also one of nine U.S. states where marriage equality for same-sex couples is legal.