‘Upperclassmen’ No More: Penn State Gets Rid of ‘Male-Centric’, ‘Sexist’ & ‘Classist’ Terms

The new changes reportedly come in response to a policy that allows students to be recognised “by their self-selected name and gender”.

Pennsylvania State University has moved to curb the use of descriptors such as “freshman” and “sophomore” as part of the changes brought by a Faculty Senate bill which passed last month.

According to Fox News, the changes envisioned by the bill on the “Removal of Gendered & Binary Terms from Course and Program Descriptions” would apply to “all written materials, including both internal and outward-facing documents”.

“Terms such as ‘freshmen’ are decidedly male-specific, while terms such as ‘upperclassmen’ can be interpreted as both sexist and classist,” the bill’s introduction states. “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.”

These changes were reportedly brought forth in response to a policy “allowing students to be recognised by their self-selected name and gender”, the media outlet adds.

Along with recommendations to using pronouns like “they/them/theirs” instead of “he/him/his” and “she/her/hers” when referring to students, faculty or staff in course and degree program descriptions, the bill also suggests that the term “super-seniors”, when applied to students who are “taking longer to complete their (typically) four-year programmes”, carries a “slightly negative connotation”.

“Students in such situations beyond the fourth (4th) year could instead be referred to as ‘advanced-standing’ students,” the document postulates.

As per the bill’s recommendations, the terms like “freshman” and “sophomore” would be replaced with “first-year” and “second-year” respectively, while “underclassmen” and “upperclassmen” would become “lower division” and “upper division”.

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