05/02/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Using Gay Students To Recruit Gay Students

The University of Pennsylvania is leading the way on a new recruitment approach that specifically focuses on gay and lesbian applicants. By treating LGBT applicants as part of both a minority group and a special interest community, the school is reaching out to them in hopes of marketing their campus as welcoming and resourceful for LGBT students.

Penn officials cite the school's efforts to reach out to many different kinds of applicants -- be they black students, honors students or student athletes. Eric Furda, the Dean of Admissions at Penn, argues that making that connection is simply a detailed way of establishing common ground with a prospective student. "We are speaking to students on the areas that they are most interested in," he says.

The question of identification has been brought up by those covering this story, with many wondering how Penn treats sexual orientation, something that's not easily checked off on an application form. Penn officials say that so far, they have been reaching out to those applicants who specifically share their involvement in LGBT groups or discuss the issue in their personal essays.

The editorial board of The Daily Pennsylvanian has published a piece commending the university for their efforts. They also argue, however, that LGBT-targeted outreach might turn off those trying to keep their sexual orientation quiet:

Many LGBT students are not fully out of the closet or may not want to make a big deal about their sexual orientation. It appears the Admissions Office only plans to reach out to students who are active in LGBT programs or write about being out in their essays -- guidelines that seem promising. Sexual orientation can be a sensitive issue, and some extra care is key.

There's also the issue of those applicants who may still be questioning their sexualities. If outreach is only focused on students who already express interest in being part of Penn's LGBT community, it leaves out those students who have never joined groups but might want to in college, if only they knew about the opportunities. If LGBT-friendliness is kept separate from general applicants' information materials, Penn may be missing an opportunity to market itself as a gay-friendly campus to all students.

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