Incorporating inclusive language in the admissions process

September 15, 2017  

13 to 17. It’s the age range stamped on the inside of every admissions officer’s eyelids. Every decision is made with this age bracket in mind, and the topics, styles, and trends that attract them. Will this video capture their attention? If I do get them to our site, how long will they stay there? What information are they going to click on? What are they looking for in a campus tour? Did they find a student profile they could relate to? Did they even open the viewbook?

13 to 17. It’s also the prime age range that today’s teenagers come into their gender identity, exploring who they are and how they relate to each other through their friendships, first romantic relationships, and personal expression.

Creating inclusive environments and experiences for transgender and nonbinary students can speak volumes about the values of an institution. This goes beyond making trans students feel safe and welcome—which is, of course, the first priority. It’s also about saying to the world: we believe in inclusivity of all kinds.

We’re seeing more and more colleges create welcoming and open experiences, policies, spaces, resources, and conversations for students who are trans or exploring gender fluidity. (And colleges that aren’t doing so are being called out for it.) What we don’t see are institutions taking a strong approach to inclusivity BEFORE students get to campus — during the recruitment process.

While student affairs offices everywhere are making headway in attracting trans students, making them feel welcome, and sharing the values of openness and inclusivity, admissions communicators have a long way to go in reflecting that in their materials. Here are four ways to change that right now:

  1. Include pronouns for students who are featured or quoted in admissions communications. Name, year, major, preferred pronouns. It’s that easy.
  2. Make trans and nonbinary people visible in your admissions communications photography. That means dedicating photography resources to capture images at student LBGTQIA events.
  3. Have your campus’s organization for LGBTQIA students review admissions communications. Building great partnerships with these groups can provide valuable insight on what feels inclusive and what doesn’t.
  4. Know the terms. Here’s a primer to get you started.

This isn’t a list of dramatic actions that will instantly thrust your admissions communications into the inclusivity spotlight. But collectively, they’re bound to make students who fall outside of traditional gender labels feel safe, welcome, and excited to join your student population.

Of course not all colleges and universities feel they are in a position to make these changes – specifically faith-based institutions that are steeped in long-held beliefs. There could even be backlash from alumni and parents. But what we know of Gen Z is that they are our most accepting, non-discriminatory generation ever, and inclusive actions to all groups are bound to attract their many allies, too. If the root of education is truly about encouraging possibility, creating opportunity, and shaping the people who shape the world, schools have a responsibility to consider the impact of taking no action at all.

Kelly’s pronouns: she/her/hers


This article originally appeared on Inside Higher Ed.

Photo by David Aaron Troy.