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Penn’s gaydar admissions project goes back years: Gays are ‘blue-chip recruits’

Consultant is ‘sure’ that ‘savvier students’ pretend to be gay to improve admissions chances

The University of Pennsylvania’s attempts to guess the sexual orientation of applicants are nothing new – and the school says it’s too busy to explain what weight, if any, it gives to applicants who aren’t perceived to be heterosexual.

As recently reported by The College Fix, Penn’s admissions department is trying to “read” applications for clues about sexuality when it’s not stated explicitly.

JordanPascucci.TwitterAssociate Dean of Recruitment Jordan Pascucci, who’s been featured in the lesbian magazine GO, told The Daily Pennsylvanian earlier this month that her office tags “students who self-identify as part of the LGBT community or as strong allies.” Three in four of those students identify as LGBT rather than allies, higher than expected, she said.

The director of the LGBT center on campus told The Daily he wants admissions officers to go even farther, looking for “more subtle indications of LGBTQ identity” than those the admissions staff are used to seeing.

Dean of Admissions Eric Furda described the process as “sometimes highly analytical and subjective,” according to The Daily.

As to whether that means students who hint they aren’t heterosexual can improve their chances of admission – or what qualifies as “LGBTQ identity” for the admissions office – the school isn’t talking.

Pascucci did not return requests for comment from The Fix. A university spokesperson told The Fix in an email that the office was too busy to answer questions.

“Admissions personnel are swamped right now, and I just cannot ask them to stop the work that is their primary focus right now,” spokesperson Ron Ozio said.

The process of ferreting out sexuality in a bid to increase applications by, and subsequent enrollment of, gay students goes back several years at Penn.

Penn was recognized in a 2010 Inside Higher Ed article as the only school, aside from Dartmouth, that directs enrolled students who are gay – specifically, the campus Lambda Alliance – to reach out to admitted students whom Penn believes to be gay.

“The university is looking for admitted applicants who have indicated in some way that gay issues are very important in their considerations,” the article said.

Despite pressure by gay-rights groups to add an optional LGBTQ checkbox to the Common Application – which Penn uses for applications – the board in charge of the Common Application said in 2011 that such a box could create “anxiety and uncertainty” for applicants, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Duke recently became the first Common Application institution to ask applicants about sexual orientation, albeit through a “short essay” rather than a checkbox, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Though Penn hasn’t said how sexual orientation affects its admissions calculus, a 2010 article in Details that profiles Penn’s gay outreach says that being gay is an “ace in the hole” when it comes to “getting into elite universities.”

“Gays are the new blue-chip recruits” even though schools deny that their sexual orientation gives them a “leg up” in admissions, wrote Doree Shafrir, now an editor at Buzzfeed.

Shafrir notes that Penn reached out to a prospective freshman for a gay event on campus, because his application noted that he led his high school’s gay-straight alliance. It hotly pursued another student who wrote his application essay about coming out as gay, pairing him immediately with a gay sophomore who encouraged him to visit.

Asked whether being gay earned “extra admissions points,” admissions officer Pascucci told Shafrir that Penn’s gay outreach “is no different than what already happens with almost every other group on campus.”

But one college consultant isn’t so sure. Irena Smith told Shafrir she was “sure” that “savvier students” have pretended to be gay on applications, thinking “this would play well” with officers.

“The thing about being LGBT is you can’t really check,” Smith told Shafrir. “You can’t say, ‘You’re not dating other guys—you lied to us.’”

College Fix reporter Matt Lamb is a student at Loyola University-Chicago.

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IMAGES: Scott Schiller/Flickr, Jordan Pascucci/Twitter

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