CU Boulder to introduce question about sexual orientation on college application in attempt to improve data

CU Boulder will ask students their sexual orientation on college application forms in an attempt to get better data about the school’s LGBT population starting next year. Currently, there is no clear answer to how many LGBT students attend CU Boulder.

The question will ask students to volunteer their sexual orientation and gender identity to the university. The process has been in the works for a long time, said Scarlet Bowen, director of CU Boulder’s Gender and Sexuality Center. Bowen said the question will appear on the applications of undergraduate and graduate students who are admitted in the spring of 2018, and will be completely voluntary, so applicants can choose not to answer if they prefer.

The question is modeled after the University of California’s college application form, which asks students to select their sexual orientation and gender identity. More and more colleges around the country are asking about sexual orientation on their applications forms, and doing so is considered a best practice, Bowen said.

Bowen said by putting the question on the form, students will hopefully “know that the university is supportive, and maybe be prompted to seek out resources.” She said a long-term goal of hers is to include another question on the application asking if potential students want information about LGBT resources on campus, so they can be informed about what the school has to offer right from the start.

Aside from making potential students feel included, the main goal of the question is to better measure the university’s LGBT population. Currently, the university does not keep records on the student body’s LGBT demographics like they do for race and gender, and there is no clear answer to how many LGBT students attend CU Boulder.

By adding the question, Bowen said the university will be able to see if it has diverse LGBT recruitment, and will be able to measure if they are doing a good job keeping LGBT students in college through graduation.

Students had mixed feelings about the proposal.

“It seems a little odd that the school wants to know who we sleep with, but if it’s for data then that’s good,” said River Leung, CU Boulder junior. “It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”

Currently, there are only two surveys that track data about LGBT students at CU Boulder: the Campus Climate Survey and the Sexual Misconduct Survey. The Campus Climate Survey is given every four years and seeks to measure undergraduate students’ level of comfort on campus and whether they feel welcome. On the most recent survey in 2014, 62 percent of white LGBT students and 57 percent of LGBT students of color answered “yes” to the question “do you feel welcome?” as opposed to 65 percent of all students, according to information from the Gender and Sexuality Center.

The Sexual Misconduct Survey was given for the first time in fall 2015 and brought to light some troubling statistics about rates of sexual assault for LGBT students at CU Boulder. According to the data, bisexual women and women questioning their sexual orientation had the highest rates of sexual assault, with respectively 34 and 30 percent reporting that they had been sexually assaulted. Women who selected that their sexual orientation was not represented on the list reported a 28 percent rate of sexual assault, and 24 percent of lesbians reported being sexually assaulted.

For men, the highest rates of sexual assault were reported by gay men at 17 percent of survey respondents, and questioning men at 16 percent.

The sexual orientation demographics are not on the website with the rest of the information about the Sexual Misconduct Survey, said Teresa Wroe, deputy Title IX coordinator in the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, who facilitated the creation of the survey. Wroe said the information is not on the website out of a fear that people would impose their own negative stereotypes of LGBT people onto the data.

“One of the real challenges in talking about the data related to LGBTQ students is the overlying social perceptions and overlying stereotypes and biases against LGBT populations in general,” Wroe said.

Wroe said regardless of sexual orientation or race, factors like the tactics perpetrators of sexual assault used and who the perpetrators were in relation to their victims were the same.

“If you look at the data overall, it looks very similar across the board, with the exception that in regards to sexual orientation, particularly bisexual women are the most at-risk of sexual assault,” she said. “They’re experiencing pretty high rates of sexual assault, predominately from male perpetrators, so those are issues particularly of a community that is stigmatized.”

Wroe said that the OIEC gives specific presentations about the survey’s results about LGBT students through the GSC and events like the semesterly Diversity and Inclusion Summit so people can understand the data in context.

Bowen said part of why the addition to the college application form is so important is because the data it garners will bring more context to the results of surveys like the Sexual Misconduct Survey. She said she hopes that more complete data on LGBT students will give the administration a better picture of the community’s needs.

“Our purview doesn’t extend everywhere, so we need a lot better information about what the campus climate results illustrate about problem areas for our students,” she said.

Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at carina.julig@colorado.edu.

Carina Julig

Carina Julig serves as the managing editor of the CU Independent. A junior majoring in journalism and political science, she formerly interned at the Boulder Daily Camera and studied journalism abroad in the Balkans. She is a California native and cut her teeth in student journalism at her San Diego high school.

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