Applicants for the 2019 class at Duke University will now have the opportunity to showcase their diversity by elaborating on their sexual orientation and gender identity following an addition to the school’s application materials.
Rather than merely checking a box, applicants are invited to respond to an optional essay prompt: “Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better — perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background — we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke.”
While the essay also allows students to craft an answer revolving around their race, religion or any other matter of their choosing, the component regarding sexual orientation has drawn the most attention.
While programs and institutions targeted at gay students are widespread on American campuses, actually asking applicants about their sexual identities is exceedingly rare.
Out of over 400 schools using the Common Application, Duke is the first to add such a question as a supplement, and nationwide only three other colleges are known to ask about the subject. The most notable is MIT, which asks applicants if they identify as gay, lesbian, heterosexual or one of several other options, including “unsure.”
The question’s inclusion was promoted by Blue Devils United, the school’s gay rights organization. BDU’s president Daniel Kort told the school newspaper that the question would help the school better understand the demographics of both applicants and admitted students, in order to better gauge whether Duke is perceived as welcoming to gay students. However, Kort said he ultimately would prefer for the school to eventually use an optional checkbox explicitly dealing with sexual orientation, rather than simply incorporating it into a broader essay question.
“I believe that the absence of this sort of check box ultimately serves as a double standard of treating gender and sexual minorities differently than their peers of other historically marginalized demographics,” Kort said.
The Common Application itself has explicitly rejected adding a checkbox about sexual identity, saying in 2011 that such a question would potentially cause uncertainty and anxiety among high schoolers filling out the application while having little apparent benefit.
However, Campus Pride, a national gay rights group focused on collegiate issues, has promoted the use of such questions, arguing that they will allow schools to track how well gay students perform relative to the rest of the student body.
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