UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State Homecoming will move to a gender-neutral court in 2018, transitioning away from the long-time practice of crowning a “king” and “queen,” as part of an effort by the student-run Homecoming Committee to foster more diversity and gender inclusivity. Instead, two students will be named “Guide State Forward” award winners, reflecting this year’s Homecoming theme.
“We’re striving to open up Homecoming so that all Penn State students can feel like they are welcome and able to participate. Our goal is to identify the best students to represent Penn State without regard to their gender, gender identity or gender expression,” said Ally Berdan, executive director of Penn State Homecoming 2018. “This change is not only in line with our organization’s desire to be accepting of all students, but also the University’s values of diversity and inclusion, as reflected in the All In initiative.”
Penn State students will join a growing number of universities and high schools across the country that have transitioned to a gender-neutral homecoming. After the University of Iowa and University of Minnesota, Penn State will be the third university in the Big Ten to eliminate the male-to-female ratio of its Homecoming Student Court.
As in past years, 10 candidates from the senior class will be chosen for Homecoming Student Court, and two finalists will be recognized at the annual Homecoming football game at Beaver Stadium. However, beginning this fall, the terms “king” and “queen” will no longer be used to describe these two individuals, which may be a variation on the past practice of naming one man and one woman.
“The student-led changes to this year’s Homecoming are positive and exemplify the ideals of the Homecoming Committee and the University’s commitment to building a welcoming and inclusive environment for all,” said Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs.
This student-led effort was initiated by the Homecoming Executive Committee with support from the broader organization, according to Sarah Monteleone, program adviser in the Office of Student Activities and staff adviser for Penn State Homecoming. In addition, the committee collaborated with advocacy centers and offices throughout the University, including the Gender Equity Center and the LGBTQA Resource Center on the new initiative.
“We’re always benchmarking with other universities to see how we can continuously evolve and be more inclusive in our practices,” Monteleone said. “It’s been very exciting to see the students take the lead on this change to shape how they want Penn State to be known for years to come.”
A milestone of this year’s Homecoming celebration will be the launch of the Guide State Forward Award, which is part of the overall vision for Penn State Homecoming to embrace sustainability, social responsibility, and diversity and inclusion.
“With this award, we’re looking for students who exemplify the core values of Penn State through their service, leadership and academics,” Berdan said. “It’s less about what a student looks like on paper, for example, and more about embracing the whole person and the unique experiences and backgrounds of each Penn Stater.”
Like in past years, students, faculty and staff members can nominate a rising senior for Homecoming Student Court during the open nomination periods in April and August. Homecoming captains will review each application and select up to 20 candidates who will be interviewed and narrowed down to the 10-member student court by a panel of volunteer faculty and staff.
During Homecoming Week in October, students will be able to vote for their top five finalists. From this group, the faculty-staff panel will choose two seniors most deserving of the Guide State Forward Award, who will be acknowledged on field at the Homecoming football game on Oct. 13.
For this year’s Student Court, the focus on service and community will be no different than past years, according to Berdan. The student court will carry on the tradition of participating in events such as the Homecoming “For the Glory Talent Show” and “Best of Penn State Carnival.” For the first time this year, the group also will plan and execute a University-wide service event.
“The Homecoming Committee’s primary mission will always be to unite the student body with alumni and the local community,” she said. “We want to celebrate past traditions while creating new ones by encouraging all students — not just those typically seen as a Homecoming king or queen — to envision themselves as Guide State Forward Award winners. Above all, we want everyone to feel like they have a place here at Penn State.”
Spring nominations can be made beginning April 10. For more information, visit homecoming.psu.edu.