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Penn State to remove binary terms like ‘freshman’ from course descriptions

Terms replaced with words like 'first-year student'
Joe Paterno
Posted at 10:05 AM, May 21, 2021

Penn State University is set to remove gendered and binary terms from the school’s course and program descriptions, including the words “freshman,” “sophomore,” “junior,” and “senior.”

Instead of these terms, the university is expected to use words like “first-year student,” “second-year student,” “third-year student,” and so on. The school will also replace the words “underclassmen” and “upperclassmen” with “lower division” and “upper division.”

That’s according to the college’s student newspaper, the Daily Collegian, which confirmed the change with a spokesperson from the University Faculty Senate office.

CNN, which also confirmed the news, reports that the Faculty Senate voted on April 27 to pass a bill called AD84 on Preferred Name and Gender Identity Policy.

The faculty group explained in the measure that the university, like many other schools, has grown out of a typically male-centered world, so many of the terms used in higher education carry a male-centric, binary character to them.

“Terms such as ‘freshmen’ are decidedly male-specific, while terms such as ‘upperclassmen’ can be interpreted as both sexist and classist,” the Faculty Senate wrote. “Terms such as ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ are parallel to western male father-son naming conventions, and much of our written documentation uses he/she pronouns.”

Along with these changes, the school will strive to move away from the use of pronouns when referring to students, faculty, staff, and guests in course descriptions. The college will replace he/him/his and she/her/hers with they/them/theirs or use non-gendered terms such as student, faculty member, staff member, etc.

A media relations representative for the university noted to CNN that these changes will apply only to courses and program descriptions.

The changes come at a time when it’s becoming more common for people to identify as nonbinary, meaning their gender identity or gender expression falls outside the categories of man and woman. The topic came up this week after singer Demi Lovato announced they identify as nonbinary and they are changing their pronouns to they/them.