IPFW is following the lead of universities across the country who aim to be more inclusive.
So for the first time in university history, IPFW did not crown a homecoming king and queen. Instead, students competed to win the title of “Top Don”.
The Homecoming Committee Chair, Audrey Donat, said the decision was made to even the playing field for students who do not identify as either male or female.
“We had someone last year that was thinking about running, but they were born male and wanted to run as the queen,” Donat said, “so that topic got brought up and we decided this would be the ideal thing.”
Donat said the decision was made after last year’s homecoming, because the university was already going through a lot of changes, so it made sense to implement the shift.
Donat said the new homecoming model was based on the University of Nebraska at Omaha, one of the first universities to replace homecoming king and queen with homecoming “royalty” in 2016.
“I just think it makes it more even, it makes it more open, and we are going for a more welcoming environment across the board on this campus, not just homecoming,” Donat said, “and so I think that is a big benefit to the switch.”
Despite the change, there were no gender-neutral members on the homecoming court. Out of the five members of the 2018 court, three were male and two female.
Unlike other schools who have done away with homecoming king and queen in exchange for two winners of any gender identity, IPFW only had one winner. Donat said the decision was made so students would not feel pressure to campaign with someone.
However, some students had been looking forward to campaigning together.
Kurt Unger, a senior computer engineering major from Churubuscho, Indiana, said he initially chose to run for homecoming court so he could campaign with his friend.
“It’s kind of sad because we wanted to run together, and we wanted to campaign together and have a fun thing to do together, but now it’s kind of more lonely,” Kurt laughed. “I don’t know.”
As a member of OUTspoken, a campus organization which focuses on providing a safe atmosphere for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and allies, Kurt said he can see why the decision was made.
But since there is only one winner, his friend chose not to run, though she still helped him campaign by handing out candy at voting booths.
Other members of OUTspoken were also supportive of the change.
Janelle Hall, a junior psychology and women’s studies major from Fort Wayne said she thinks any effort to make IPFW more inclusive is a good thing.
Janelle said it is very important for people to respect pronouns in a university setting where professors and advisers are supposed to be there on behalf of the students.
However, Janelle said she has heard a mixed bag of responses from other students regarding the change.
“From other people on campus who I’ve talked to its kind of half a joke like, ‘Oh man, there they go, what are they doing?’ and half like, ‘Well that makes sense because we want to be more inclusive,’” Janelle said.
Janelle said respecting gender pronouns is important to her because she recognizes her own privilege. She said she grew up feeling as comfortable about her body as a woman in America can feel.
“I’ve never had to confront that part of my identity in a way that would go against everything our culture says is right,” Janelle said. “So for me, respecting people’s pronouns is respecting that people have gone through different experiences than me.”
Janelle said for some of her friends who are transgender or gender-neutral, being addressed as their chosen pronoun is an important part of being accepted for who they really are.
However, she said she has noticed a generational gap in those who are accepting. Her friends have experienced older people purposefully using the wrong pronoun, something she considers a form of violence.
When this happens, Janelle said her friends often end up crying and feeling really bad about their bodies. She said it leaves them feeling disrespected or like they cannot connect with people.
While the majority of schools still crown a traditional homecoming king and queen, Donat said she expects to see more schools making the change to gender-neutral homecoming titles in the future.
IPFW crowned Emily Day, a junior biology major from North Manchester, Indiana, as the first-ever Top Don on Saturday during half-time at the IPFW men’s basketball game vs. South Dakota State.