CHICAGO -- Something new at 140-year-old Elmhurst College made senior Ally Vertigan very proud when she learned of it.
A question on the undergraduate admission application for the 2012-13 school year asks: "Would you consider yourself a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community?"
The college is believed to be the first in the nation to ask about sexual orientation on its admission application. The question is optional for potential Elmhurst students filling out the application. But officials at the private college say their goal in asking it is to increase diversity and give them a better understanding of LGBT students. Diversity, according to the officials, is an important mission of the school, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
"I'm so proud of my college. I think this is a great step contextually, within the nation," said Vertigan, who noted that she "identifies within the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community."
Gary Rold, dean of admissions, said the college will get a better handle on what LGBT students want from their college experience. He said students' interests affect greatly what the college offers, including majors and extracurricular activities.
"Football players wouldn't come here if we don't have a football team," he said. "This has greater emotional charge to it. But it's in the same continuum."
Rold said the college began thinking about how to increase enrollment of LGBT students after they were approached by the school's chapter of Straights and Gays for Equality, which wanted to have a college recruitment fair.
Shane Windmeyer, of Campus Pride, a non-profit national organization for student leaders and campus groups working to create safer college environments for LGBT students, said the college's decision "sends a message of acceptance."
Elmhurst students questioned last week generally embraced the college's decision to ask the question. "If it's optional that's all right," said Lauren Grimm, a sophomore. "If it was mandatory, that would be ridiculous."