Editors' Note: Guest blogger Drew Cordes is a transgender woman from Albany, N.Y. She is a 2004 graduate of Vassar College.
A recent story in Details magazine examines the hypercompetitive college-application process at the country's top schools, and asks whether openly LGBT students have a leg up on their peers.
School officials interviewed seemed to talk out of both sides of their mouths on whether sexuality is a factor.
Mention the idea that an LGBT student in some way gets extra admissions points to Jordan Pascucci, an admissions officer at Penn who's a lesbian, and she disagrees. "Not at all," she says. "The reality of it is that this outreach is no different than what already happens with almost every other group on campus. All the cultural resource centers do this already, and it's a shame that it took so long to happen with the LGBT community."
On one hand, Pascucci says it has no weight, but then she specifies that LGBT applicants are the recipients of outreach efforts like "every other group on campus." It is this classification that's crucial. In the years before an outspoken queer presence began to manifest itself in politics, media, academia and countless other areas, we were not a "group" as defined by mainstream (i.e. white, straight) culture. Now, we're recruited with other minorities under the goal of that giant, dubious buzzword: diversity.
Don't get me wrong, I'm glad diversity is a goal for colleges and companies, and I think it's a positive thing. However, we have to probe whether a school is genuinely committed to a supportive and thriving environment for the groups they reach out to, or if it's just in pursuit of being able to boast about "diversity" to U.S. News and World Report, Forbes, The Princeton Review, and all the other influential college evaluators.
Here's another perspective:
Irena Smith, a private college consultant in Palo Alto, Calif., (says) ... "I think a student's orientation would also need to feed into something either like a really strong sense of self-awareness or a willingness to organize politically and socially and form a support group or start a gay-straight alliance."
Smith explains that an applicant's queerness would have to accompany a form of activism or acute "self-awareness," whatever that means. Are these criteria not also true for straight applicants? A straight student with great grades, but no extracurricular activities or "self-awareness," isn't an Ivy League shoo-in anymore. These schools require other accomplishments besides acing tests.
Smith says a queer applicant won't get a free pass, but such overt favoritism isn't the focus here. Rather it's the subtle boost received when schools are conscious of their "diversity." She continues, "I think admissions officers are more savvy than to just say, 'Here's an LGBT kid--we don't have enough of those.'" True enough, but it's naïve to think that admissions officers don't consider their schools' social, ethnic and cultural atmosphere when choosing whom to accept.
On the whole, it seems what's going on between these colleges and young queers is a sort of symbiosis. The two parties are using each other in a mutually beneficial relationship. The school that may have slightly stretched to accept the queer student can boast about its diversity, and the accepted queer student who would've otherwise attended a lesser school can happily plaster an Ivy League alma mater in big, bold letters on top of his or her resume after graduation.
However, there is one problematic wrinkle that comes to mind regarding this arrangement. Unlike race, sexual orientation and gender identity aren't always visible or verifiable. Many don't even acknowledge their feelings or come out until a later age. Those that are still closeted, questioning or unaware at ages 17 and 18 (and really, who does have a firm grasp on sexuality/gender at that age?) will miss out on the recruiting boost. And what about the bi-curious girl who discovers she only prefers men during sophomore year? How about the straight guy who just lied to try for an edge?
Though they may be in the minority, these are the instances that illuminate the hollowness of colleges' pursuit of the diversity buzzword in the recruiting/acceptance process. Treating queer students as trophies does them no good once the acceptance letters are mailed. Sure, the school can trot out lines about their commitment to recruiting LGBT students, but can it meet the needs of the 21-year-old junior who was not an LGBT recruit and is now scared shitless because he just came out?
The schools that truly are committed to the spirit of diversity, not just the buzzword, will give queer students their necessary resources. They will have a visible community, support systems, facilities, groups and functions for those LGBT students who weren't "self-aware" at the time of their application. Hopefully, queer applicants will be able to discern which colleges are committed to substance, and which are just after the buzzword.