Should We Ask about Sexual Orientation? Developing Assessment Tools at Colleges and Universities

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U.S. colleges and universities routinely ask students about their race and gender, but sexual orientation is often a taboo subject. In 2006, Tufts University conducted a survey of U.S. colleges to find out how many are collecting information on their students’ sexual and gender identities, how, and why or why not. We will present data from these surveys, including information on why many colleges prefer not to ask these questions, and why an increasing number are beginning to ask. In addition, we will discuss inherent issues of inaccuracy when trying to count LGBT populations, and examine the thorny problem of what words to use when asking these questions. Finally, we will look at concrete ways survey results can be used to initiative institutional change and improve the educational experiences of LGBT students.


Keywords: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Survey, Assessment, Student Services, Institutional Research, Diversity
Stream: Gender and Sexuality
Presentation Type: 60 minute Workshop Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Dona Yarbrough

Director, LGBT Center, Instutional Diversity
Student Affairs, Tufts University

Medford, MA, USA

Dona Yarbrough holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia. Her graduate studies focused on critical race theory, gender studies, and queer studies. She delivered lectures and workshops at numerous universities and has presented research related to diversity at numerous conferences, including the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture, and Society; the American Studies Association; and the National Women's Studies Association. She is a recipient of the Modern Language Association Crompton-Noll Award for Best Essay in Lesbian, Gay, Queer Studies. This is her fifth year directing the LGBT Center at Tufts University, where she is also a part-time faculty member in the Women's Studies Program.

Dr. Lisa Coleman

Executive Director, Office of Institutional Diversity, Office of the President
Office of the Provost, Tufts University

Medford, MA, USA

Lisa Coleman is currently the Executive Director, Office of Institutional Diversity (OID) and teaches in the American Studies program at Tufts University. Her Ph.D. work is in American Studies and her two Master’s degrees are in Gender and Sexuality Studies and Africana Studies. Prior to working at Tufts, Lisa taught English Literature within the City University of New York system. She has also taught and worked with the Ohio State University and the University of Michigan's Centers for Teaching Excellence, and with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) as a Senior Research Associate. In 2002, Lisa was selected to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities Speaker's Series for her work in ethnic studies. Lisa has worked with a number of colleges and universities on issues of multiculturalism and has presented numerous papers focusing on diversity and academic excellence.

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