Do Ask, Do Tell: UCSF SOM asks applicants about sexual orientation and gender identity

School of Medicine

This year, for the first time, the UCSF School of Medicine is including on its secondary application optional questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. The change was the result of a multi-year collaboration between the School of Medicine’s Office of Admissions and students from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Student Alliance (LGBTQSA). It arose from a shared desire to make the admissions experience more welcoming to students who identify with the LGBTQ community. Allowing applicants to self-identify as LGBTQ enables the school to collect critical data and to send an important message about UCSF’s commitment to an inclusive campus climate.

Within its mandatory primary application, the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), routinely collects information on many aspects of an applicant’s background, including sex (as male, female, or decline to state), age, race, national and ethnic origin, citizenship, place of legal residence, and socioeconomic status. However, information on sexual orientation and non-traditional gender identity is not captured. UCSF School of Medicine is now presenting an opportunity for applicants to voluntarily provide that information on its secondary application. Data on LGBTQ identity will allow UCSF to better understand the needs of its applicant population. Currently, this information is restricted to the Office of Admissions; however, if students could opt to make their information available to the Office of Diversity, targeted outreach efforts could be developed. LGBTQ-identified applicants could be connected with current student mentors, and incoming students could be introduced to the wealth of resources available on campus to support the LGBTQ community. Ultimately, such programs would better enable UCSF to attract the most talented and diverse students, including those who identify as LGBTQ.

Applications are an opportunity for students to present how their experiences can contribute to a campus climate. LGBTQ-identified people should feel safe in discussing their backgrounds on admissions applications, including how identity informs their perspectives and professional ambitions. However, for many LGBTQ people, experiences with stigma and discrimination have taught them not to discuss their identity openly. For others, LGBTQ-identified or not, sexual orientation and gender identity may not seem relevant to their application. Applicants will choose for themselves what information they will provide. No matter how an individual responds, the application is now more reflective of the diversity and inclusiveness at the core of the UCSF experience. 

In 2007, the University of California Board of Regents released a Diversity Statement that highlighted “the acute need to remove barriers to the recruitment, retention, and advancement of talented students, faculty, and staff from historically excluded populations.” LGBTQ-identified people have been, are, and will continue to be an important part of the fabric of UCSF. However, there was previously no systematic way of collecting information about sexual orientation and gender identity as incoming students entered into our community. With these new questions, the School of Medicine is better able to understand its applicants and is better able to communicate that applicants’ identities and past experiences matter here. By asking optional questions inclusive of LGBTQ identity, the UCSF School of Medicine can communicate that differences in sexual orientation and gender identity are a part of the diversity that makes UCSF such a vibrant place.

The new questions on sexual orientation and gender identity, like all questions on the UCSF secondary application, are works in progress. If you are interested in contributing to the discussion around these questions, or are interested in getting more involved in LGBTQ student life at UCSF, get in touch with the LGBTQSA and consider attending the opening meeting of the organization this coming fall.

Students in the LGBTQSA have been working with the School of Medicine’s Office of Admissions to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to the secondary application to make LGBTQ-identifying students feel more welcome when applying to medical school.