Duke University Application Adds Question About Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity

Sep 2, 2014

Credit OZinOH / Flickr/Creative Commons

Duke University has added a question to its undergraduate application regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.

The question is an optional essay on the Duke-specific section of the Common App: a generic application used by more than 500 schools. The question allows respondents to discuss personal experiences based on their upbringing, sexual orientation, gender identity, or cultural background.

Here's what the question will say, from Inside Higher Ed:

"Duke University seeks a talented, engaged student body that embodies the wide range of human experience; we believe that the diversity of our students makes our community stronger. If you’d like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you’ve had to help us understand you better — perhaps related to a community you belong to, your sexual orientation or gender identity, or your family or cultural background — we encourage you to do so. Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke."

"We believe strongly that the experience of going to college is, first of all, an academic and an intellectual experience," said Duke's Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Christoph Guttentag. "But it's informed by any number of factors, one of which is the different perspectives and the different values that students bring to the community. Frankly, it makes for a better educational experience."

Duke is the first University using the Common App to ask such a question. Other schools asking similar questions are MIT, Iowa, and Elmhurst College.

While Duke is interested in creating a diverse student body, Guttentag believes that means more than what can be gathered from filling in bubbles on a census form.

"We aren't that interested in what I call 'checkbox diversity,'" he said. "So, the state that someone is from or the country they're from, or the musical instrument they play, in and of itself doesn't drive a decision. But they're the sort of things that make for an interesting community and a great learning experience."

The school says it won't use the information to develop any sort of quota system, and it's unclear how many students will respond as the question is optional. Applicants hoping for Fall 2015 admission will be the first to see the question on the app.