Students Campaign For Change Involving Gendered Language Terminology

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Rowan students and staff alike are advocating for change surrounding terminology used to describe freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors. 

This act is focused on making students feel more included and making conversation more comfortable for students while engaging in activities around campus. 

To escape gendered language, some Rowan students propose a new form of terminology, encouraging terms like, “first-year,”  “second-year,” “third-year” and “fourth-year.”

Grammatical gender is not as common in English as it is in other cultures. However, it is a debated topic throughout the Rowan community. 

Dr. JoAnna Murphy currently serves as the assistant director for Women’s Inclusion Programs in the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution at Rowan University. With a Masters degree in Sociology, Dr. Murphy focuses on gender and women’s studies, while advocating gender itself as more than a mere construct and, instead, a spectrum to be identified and acknowledged. 

“It’s not just about freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. We have a lot of students who are non-traditional and students who take longer than four years,” Dr. Murphy said. “We come up with these terms that are ‘super senior’ or ‘I did a victory lap’ to try to destigmatize going beyond four years, which isn’t common anymore.” 

The English language is increasingly complex and dynamic. The concept of gendered language is continuously developing and beginning to be explored through discussion and further studies.

According to Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law survey results, an organization that examines the demographics and characteristics of LGBTQ adults, “1.2 million people living in the U.S. identify as nonbinary.”

Another study administered in 2020 by The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis organization for LGBTQ youth, found that “While 75% of youth use either he/him or she/her, 1 in 4 LGBTQ youth use pronouns or pronoun combinations that fall outside of the binary construct of gender.”

An increasing number of people have identified as nonbinary in recent years and the LGBTQ community has become more recognized as a result.

The discussion has reached Rowan University’s campus, and some are yearning for change from the administration.

“Intentional or not, the current terminology that we use [freshman through senior]– not only is freshman gendered, but it stigmatizes folks who might take more time to finish their degrees,” Dr. Murphy said. 

Rowan University has implemented different programs to assist Rowan’s LGBTQ+ Community with gender-inclusive housing, allowing students to use preferred pronouns and adding all-gender restrooms. Additionally, multiple rallies have also ensued to request change throughout campus. 

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