February 7, 2006

Please check one. Or a few. Or none.

Interesting article in the D today—"Students debate importance of sexuality in admissions."

The principal issue under discussion was whether the College should add a row of boxes to the college application asking for your sexual orientation. I have two problems with the possibility that this might be enacted.

First, if this is a way of adjusting for discrimination in high school, it seems to me that a lot of the students who would seem to need some extra concern are those who might be uncomfortable answering this question. What kind of feeling would it be to come out for the first time on your college application? To come out first not to friends or family, but to people who are judging your whole worth, whom you've never met, and who will see you unavoidably as, primarily, a set of attributes, to which you've now added just one more.

Secondly, I just don't like boxes. I feel it is a childishly cheap way of ensuring diversity. Let me rephrase that. It is a childishly cheap way of ensuring that you can say your college is committed to diversity. I feel colleges today are committed to diversity in about the same way they were committed to a specific religious denomination a number of years ago—that is, ceremonially. If we're committed to diversity, put our money on it. Recruit more heavily, more attentively, and don't rely on check-boxes to make people feel welcome. Talk for real, in real terms in the admissions literature and in those travelling salesman speeches about the way diversity is pursued at Dartmouth. Talk about how active the organizations that add to our diversity are. And if you can't find a good talking point, well, then, we've got some other problems. But don't fake it with check-boxes and a little hat-tip in our public relations literature.

On the other hand, I can imagine it might be a good thing if students were able to express their sexual orientation without trying to coyly slip it into their essay or make their entire essay about it.

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