Penn State University Bans Gendered, Binary Terms Such as ‘Freshman’ and ‘Upperclassman’

In a move to help support students of all gender identities feel more welcome and be more successful in their studies, officials at Penn State have announced that the school will remove gendered, binary terms such as “freshman” and “upperclassman” from across the university. The terms will be replaced with similar, non-gendered phrases such as “first-year” and “upper-division.”

Wilson Wong of NBC News reported that Pennsylvania State University officials approved a measure that would remove these types of gendered and binary terms from their course and program descriptions late last month.

Penn State Faculty Senate suggested these changes through a proposition called “AD84 Preferred Name and Gender Identity Policy.” According to Wong, it “recommended changing the nomenclature of college classes from freshman, sophomore, junior and senior to first-year, second-year, third-year and fourth-year.”

Other changes recommended in the proposition include “replacing the terms ‘underclassmen’ and ‘upperclassmen’ with ‘lower division’ and ‘upper division,’” as well as giving students the option to indicate “they/them/theirs” pronouns.

University officials have said that their impetus in creating the change was to eliminate “sexist and classist” terms and “to build a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all students.”

The proposition said, “terms like ‘freshman’ and ‘upperclassmen’ carried a ‘strong, male-centric, binary character’ and terms like ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ ran ‘parallel to western male father-son naming conventions.’”

The Daily Collegian, the school’s student newspaper, said it was unclear when the updated language would be implemented at the university. 

According to Wong, once the policy is officially implemented, the recommendations would carry out across all written university matters, including recruiting materials, admissions forms and papers, internal documents and the school’s various websites.


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