Paper calls on universities to track students’ sexual and gender identities

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paper published jointly this month by the American College Personnel Association and Campus Pride urges universities to measure and track their students’ sexual and gender identities to better meet the academic needs of LGBT students on college campuses.

Characteristics like ethnicity and socioeconomic background are already measured at most schools so resources can be provided to groups that might be struggling academically. Most universities do not measure sexual or gender identity explicitly, and according to the paper, this may put LGBT students at a disadvantage.

“The goal of this paper is to make sure that folks are thinking about all of the students when they’re focusing on academic success and retention initiatives,” said Keith Humphrey, one of the paper’s authors and a former president of the ACPA.

The paper reports that LGBT students are at a high risk for violence, depression and substance abuse, which can have a negative impact on academic outcomes. Without sufficient data, universities may find it difficult to solve those problems and close achievement gaps.

“One of the challenges we recognize and highlighted in the paper is that it’s easier for an institution to develop programs about race and age,” Humphrey said. “LGBT students are harder to identify and track because identity changes, and some students have not recognized that aspect of their identity.”

According to the 2012 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, 86 percent of UC Berkeley undergraduate students identified themselves as heterosexual, 3 percent identified as gay or lesbian, 3 percent bisexual, 1 percent questioning or unsure, 1 percent self-identified queer, 5 percent declined to state and 1 percent other.

The nature of identity, and especially how it can change, may make it difficult to measure sexual and gender identity. According to Heinrich Mintrop, a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education, sexual and gender identity cannot be described in neat categories but instead should be viewed as a spectrum.

“We think of sexual orientation as much more fluid,” Mintrop said. “How can you actually attach a firm label to sexual orientation the way you can to, say, visible pigmentation of skin color? I would think that that’s the big issue.”

According to the paper, Elmhurst College in Illinois added sexual and gender identity questions to its admissions application in 2011, and the University of Iowa announced in 2012 that it would be doing the same.

In recent years, UC Berkeley has also considered adding questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to the Statement of Intent to Register filled out by incoming freshmen. Last November, the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the LGBT Community at Cal, with support from the Queer Alliance and Resource Center, recommended to the chancellor that the SIR include such questions.

Jacob Brown is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jacobebrown.