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Penn State removing binary gender language from course descriptions

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Penn State University will no longer use terms such as “freshman,” “upperclassmen” and other binary gender language in course descriptions in an effort to make campus and academic life more inclusive. 

Student newspaper The Daily Collegian first reported on the new changes approved by Penn State’s Faculty Senate last month in the new “Preferred Name and Gender Identity Policy.”

The recommendations, which were referred to the Faculty Senate by its Committee on Curricular Affairs, include using nonbinary pronouns “they/them” in place of “he/him” or “she/her” in course and program descriptions and replacing “freshman” and “sophomore” with terms such as “first-year” and “second-year.” 

The Senate committee argued in the resolution that many terms commonly used in university descriptions “carry a strong, male-centric, binary character to them” and that “terms such as ‘upperclassmen’ can be interpreted as both sexist and classist.” 

The resolution states that the changes will “close the loop and ensure that all people are not only able to choose their name & gender identity within our systems, but that these documents and systems are also structured to be inclusive from the start.” 

The proposition suggests that university officials “consider changes to all written materials, including recruiting materials, admissions materials, scholarship information, housing materials, other outward-facing documents, internal documents, and websites.” 

It was not immediately clear when the changes will officially be implemented. 

Penn State’s assistant director of media relations, Wyatt DuBois, told CNN this week that the changes will only apply to course and program descriptions, which are overseen by the Faculty Senate, rather than university administration or the board of trustees. 

“These changes have occurred at many universities across the nation,” DuBois said. “We understand and respect that there are different viewpoints on these matters.” 

The proposition also includes additional changes to terms that may have a “slightly negative connotation,” including referring to students who take longer than four years to complete their undergraduate degree as “advanced-standing” students, rather than “super-seniors.”

Tags CNN diversity and inclusion Gender binary gender nonbinary inclusion LGBTQ community Penn State University

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