Colleges discuss admit preferences for gays

An article alleging that Middlebury College would implement affirmative action for gay applicants has inspired debate among universities and activist groups across the country, but Yale administrators said they do not intend to make any such changes to the University’s admissions policy.

Though Middlebury has since denied making this statement and there appear to be no official plans to implement similar policies at other colleges, an Oct. 9 “Inside Higher Ed” article has brought the controversial issue of gay admissions into the spotlight. Most Yale College students were skeptical about the idea of providing advantages to gay students similar to those given to minorities under affirmative action in the admissions process. But some members of the Yale community applauded the idea of reaching out to gay applicants through other means.

Yale College Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel emphasized Yale’s adherence to a policy of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity with regard to sexual orientation and expression.

“We have not asked questions on our application about sexual orientation or expression,” Brenzel wrote in an e-mail. “We also do not make applicant comments about sexual identity a basis for distinguishing among applicants, and we have no plans to do so at present.”

The article reported that Middlebury, a liberal arts school in Vermont, allegedly made the announcement at the annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Middlebury, according to the article, would for the first time give “students who identify themselves as gay in the admissions process an ‘attribute’ — the same flagging of an application that members of ethnic minority groups, athletes, alumni children and others receive.”

Shawn Rae Passalacqua, assistant director of admissions at Middlebury who is attributed as Inside Higher Ed’s source for the story, has since denied having made any such statement.

“It was certainly a miscommunication between the reporter and myself,” Passalacqua said. “We do not have an ‘affirmative action’ policy.”

Some Yale students said reaching out to gay applicants could be beneficial, but questioned whether implementing a formal recruitment procedure would be constructive.

Anna Wipfler ’09, coordinator of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative at Yale, said she sees why a college would want to encourage gay students to apply.

“The presence of a substantial number of out gay students on a college campus adds a great deal to the student body’s understanding of real world issues and interactions,” Wipfler said. “Admissions officials should keep an eye out for qualified gay candidates.”

But Wipfler said colleges could attract gay students through publicity and outreach rather than requiring applicants to identify their sexual orientation.

Other students said new policies aimed at attracting gay applicants are unnecessary at the University, since Yale — often called “the gay Ivy” — already has a large gay community.

“I have always gotten the feeling that the gay community at Yale was well-represented,” Marco Garcia ’09, who is straight, said. “I have never heard gay students complain about the environment at Yale.”

Garcia’s sentiments were echoed at Middlebury, where students said they were confused as to why such a policy would be discussed at their school. Josh Chan, a junior at Middlebury, said the school is ranked among the most gay-friendly colleges, as evidenced by the strong presence of the Middlebury Open Queer Alliance, and would not need to make changes to specifically attract more gay students.

Discussion about universities instating gay affirmative action has also come to the attention of national advocacy groups. Eliza Byard ’90, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, said she approves of schools implementing such affirmative action policies. The purpose of such initiatives would be to build a diverse class, not to right past social discrimination against gays, she said.

A sophomore member of the social group GaYalies who asked to remain anonymous said he could see a parallel between recruiting athletes and encouraging gay students to come to campus.

“I think [giving gay students incentives to apply] would be a valid idea because schools already recruit athletes to increase school spirit,” he said. “There are many areas where gay people play a really important role, like theater, and it would be good to support certain areas of extracurricular activities.”

Charles Cardinaux ’07, the former head of GaYalies, said he supports openness about sexuality in college applications, but draws the line at the implementation of an affirmative action policy.

“I think that it discriminates against people who are not out or who are not willing to accept their sexuality,” Cardinaux said. “It’s such a complicated issue with so many ramifications for someone’s social life that a university can’t really say you should come out because we’re going to give you preference.”

The “Inside Higher Ed” article comes at a time when issues concerning the gay community are a focus of campus conversation. During National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, students received an anonymous e-mail criticizing homosexuality signed by the National Organization to Gain Acceptance for Your Sins, or N.O.G.A.Y.S. Flyers with a similar message had also posted around campus bulletin boards.

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