California state colleges and universities may soon be asking students about their sexual orientation on application forms as part of an effort to determine whether campuses are thoroughly servings its student populations. The move
has stirred acclamation and concern among many campus communities. The decision to allow gender expression on forms coincides with a state law (AB 620) that seeks to estimate the size of student populations who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). The law proposes that the University of California, California State University and California Community College System offer these questions in order to examine whether sufficient student services, such as counseling, are being offered. “It would be useful to know if we are underserving the population,” said Jesse Bernal, the UC system’s interim diversity coordinator, in a Los Angeles Times article. With the option of voluntarily answering the questions, Bernal believes that it “sends a positive message of inclusiveness to LGBT students and creates an environment that is inclusive and welcoming of diverse populations.”
AB 620, which was written by Assemblyman Marty Block and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last October, requests that schools enforce policies for all campus members in order to prevent the intimidation and harassment of LGBT students in California. Additionally, the law would allow students and faculty “to identify their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” on demographic surveys. Nancy Jean Tubbs, the Director of the LGBT Resource Center at UC Riverside, believes that the move will benefit the diverse student populations. “I think this is a positive step because too often LGBT people are rendered invisible by institutions,” Tubbs said in an interview with The Highlander. “I think it is very important for our campus to include gender identity and sexual orientation demographic questions on surveys and assessments because otherwise collected data is useless in evaluating and serving the needs of all students.”
However, Tubbs also maintains that campus officials will need to understand that any applications asking these questions will under-report the actual number of LGBT students. Some students will skip the question because they either fear “outing” themselves or because they are still forming a sexual or gender identity. According to Robert Anderson, a UC Berkeley professor and Academic Senate chairman, the questions on sexual orientation and identity have been approved by the UC Academic Senate. At the earliest, the questions could commence when students enroll at UC campuses in fall of 2013. Likewise, talks are in progress for questions to be included on enrollment forms for fall of 2013 at each Cal State campus.
“AB 620 and the questions may benefit the LGBT community by encouraging institutional systems to provide resources and safe spaces that were never available before in some campuses,” stated Gloria Diaz, an LGBT student activist at CSU San Marcos, in an interview with The Highlander. “Recognizing the LGBT as people instead of second class citizens would be a huge step toward equality.” The decision has also raised some concern about confidentiality. State Sen. Tom Harman stated in an LA Times article, “It is an invasion of privacy.” Harman, an opponent to the bill, worries that the personal information may be improperly utilized and divulged.
Emily Lin, a student at UC Riverside, believes that schools having access to the surveyed data “can better cater to the diversity of the campus that’s not limited to ethnic and racial diversity, and religious identity.” However, with the sensitive information, she added, “schools should take precautionary measures of contacting students and faculty members before they try to use the information for whatever other purposes so that it would not be detrimental to the students and faculty.”