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Penn State will remove gendered, binary terms like 'freshman' and 'upperclassman'

Among its recommendations were to replace terms like "freshman" and "upperclassman" with "first-year" and "upper-division."
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Pennsylvania State University officials approved a measure that would remove gendered and binary terms like "freshman" and "upperclassman" from course and program descriptions late last month.

The changes were suggested in a Penn State University Faculty Senate proposition, AD84 Preferred Name and Gender Identity Policy, which passed on April 27, a university spokesperson told the student newspaper The Daily Collegian. It was unclear when the updated language would be implemented.

The proposition recommended changing the nomenclature of college classes from "freshman," "sophomore," "junior" and "senior" to "first-year," "second-year," "third-year" and "fourth-year."

Among its other recommendations were replacing the terms "underclassmen" and "upperclassmen" with "lower division" and "upper division," as well as he/him/his and she/her/hers pronouns with they/them/theirs pronouns.

The impetus for the changes was to move beyond the school's lexicon of "sexist and classist" terms and to build a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, according to the proposition.

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 proposition said.

If implemented, the recommendations would be enforced in all written materials, including recruiting information, admissions materials, internal documents and school websites.

Penn State University did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The move comes on the heels of wider education and visibility of the use of nonbinary gender pronouns and terms.

In a survey conducted last year by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, 1 in 4 LGBTQ youths said they used pronouns other than he/him or she/hers.

The survey, which asked 40,000 LGBTQ young people ages 13 to 24, found that 75 percent of those who use pronouns other than the gender binary choose a combination of he/him, she/her and they/them to express their genders. For example, a person might use "he and they" or "she and they" or "he, she and they."

An increasing number of actors and musicians have also identified as nonbinary in the past few years.

On Wednesday, Demi Lovato announced they are nonbinary and changing their pronouns to they/them.

Other celebrities who identify as nonbinary include the Grammy-winning singer Sam Smith, "Queer Eye" star Jonathan Van Ness, "Pose" star Indya Moore, "The Hate U Give" star Amandla Stenberg and "Atypical" actor Brigette Lundy-Paine, although their pronouns vary across the board.