Pennsylvania State University, better known as Penn State, approved a provision to stop using terms such as ‘freshman’ or ‘sophomore’ in school system documents because, the institution argues, they are part of a “male-centric academic history.”
The current provision is approved under the policy known as AD84, effected by the Penn State Senate in 2017 that “provides guidance for the establishment of a preferred name and/or gender identity within the University’s information systems..” That is, a policy that allows students to be recognized by their self-defined “name” and “gender” rather than their legal names. This is as long as it is not for illicit purposes or unrelated to “gender identity.”
The policy is couched in clear progressive language that points toward a theoretically more “diverse” Penn State under the current parameters of “inclusivity.” The text argues, in a dismissive tone, that the world’s houses of learning were “centered” on males. The statement reads:
“The University, as with most all academic institutions world-wide, has grown out of a typically male-centered world. As such, many terms in our lexicon carry a strong, 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. 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.”
The new proposal, approved by the Penn State Senate, outlines that “With the implementation of the AD84 – Preferred Name and Gender Identity Policy, it is time to 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 Senate urged Penn State to consider “changes to all written materials, including recruiting materials, admissions materials, scholarship information, housing materials, other outward-facing documents, internal documents, and websites. .”
The Penn State changes
The Penn State senate approved in the proposal a series of specific recommendations that would change terms used throughout history within the house of study.
The first recommendation states that it should ” Move away from the use of gendered pronouns when referring to students, faculty, staff, and guests in course descriptions and degree program descriptions… 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.”
The University Senate also recommended “Move away from the use of academic grouping titles that stem from a primarily male-centric academic history in course descriptions and degree program descriptions… Replace freshman/sophomore/junior/senior with first-year (1st-year), second-year (2nd-year), third-year (3rd-year), fourth-year (4th-year), and beyond.”
In the last sections, it is explained that there are students who take a little longer to finish their degrees and are often referred to as “super seniors” and that this may have a “slightly negative connotation”; therefore, they suggest using the term “advanced-standing’ students”.
Finally, the report also reads to eliminate the terminologies ‘underclassmen’ and ‘upperclassmen’ for ‘lower division’ and ‘upper division.’
This provision of Penn State is in line with the changes underway in universities around the world that seek to leave behind the traditional language of institutions in favor of “modernization”. Yale University, for example, eliminated the terms in 2017 and adopted “gender-neutral” words and pronouns.
Last January, the Democratic-dominated House of Representatives adopted a provision similar to Penn State. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican minority leader, tweeted that the changes “are stupid,” and various columnists in major media criticized the new guidelines for adopting gender neutrals in Congress.
Jason Riley, a writer, and columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote critically in January that there is ” little evidence that anyone besides far-left elites is obsessed with a gender-neutral vocabulary. In recent years, Democratic activists have tried to popularize the word “Latinx” in lieu of Latino and Latina. But a Pew Research Center poll taken last year found that just 3% of Hispanics self-describe as Latinx.”
Riley, one of many columnists critical of the use of neutral pronouns, argued that “Democratic language police not only demand tolerance but also support for the progressive agenda.”