“Royalty” doesn’t guarantee gender inclusivity

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Tim Eggert

Homecoming is in the books and WinterFest came to a wrap last week, but, despite a national motif of redefinition, certain traditions at Northern have yet to acclimate to reconfigured identities and to rewritten narratives, specifically, those regarding gender inclusivity.

The most continuous manifestation of this has been Homecoming’s “King & Queen Competition:” the name itself assumes a gender binary among the student body, and applies it directly to the students in the contest. Point nine in a list of eligibility/general information composed by the Special Events Committee (SEC), which arranges Homecoming, states, “There will be only one King and one Queen crowned, regardless of divisions.”

For over 75 years, there has been only one royal couple crowned at Homecoming, and each have been male and female, respectively.

At other universities, amendments have been made to royalty regulations and their accompanying designations. One of the first universities to rescind binary labels was San Diego State University; in 2015, the gender-neutral term “royals” became the replacement for “king” and “queen.”

Appalachian State University followed suit in 2016, according to USA Today, and as of 2017, the University of Minnesota did the same.

This year’s WinterFest ostensibly hopped on the wagon, when the SEC announced a “Royalty Competition,” and addressed gender neutrality in the fifth point of eligibility/general information. It states, “Students will be judged in the same category regardless of gender identity.”

Although the competition wasn’t held due to a shortage of participants, the SEC’s changes to the rules indicates a significant step in the direction of gender inclusivity. That being said, can we expect a same sex or gender neutral royal couple to be crowned at Homecoming 2018?

The fall event will definitely serve as the first response to gender neutral terminology, but, it may not establish precedent for the winter competition.

What a shame, because we’re struggling both as a university community and as a nation right now to forge a healthier dynamic between men and women, and to prevent people from sorting each other into inherited, outdated categories of gender, ethnic and sexual identities. We severely need a stable and more explicit model of inclusivity.

Instead, we have an ambiguous mission headlined by signifiers like “foster inclusivity” and “increase community connectivity.” What does this look like? What can we point to and say, “this is the product of change?”

Surely oxymoronic titles don’t qualify as an example, but, they’re a good place to start. The SEC’s adjustment to the WinterFest tradition was thoughtful, and seemingly attempted to validate the legitimacy of gender inclusivity, but, obviously didn’t translate into the students crowned.

Underpinning the tradition and its terminology is a tension between upholding institutional convention and embracing political correctness. One side argues that observing heritage maintains a thread of history that connects past students with current students, whereas the opposition asserts that customs should reflect progressive values held by contemporary students.

It seems that the attitude of current students is a mix of both factions: we opt for adapting traditions to modern social and cultural standards, rather than eliminating them.

In practice, however, we fail to complete the transition because our attitude of high expectations limits immediate, effective behavior. In other words, we’re aware that changes need to be made, but implementing that conscious effort as consistent action can be difficult.

Translating visions of abstract ideology into tangible action isn’t painless, and never has been. Racial and sexual equality weren’t overnight endeavors of change, nor have they been permanently resolved in individual minds and collective consensus.

So, maybe it’s naive to expect the immediate expression of a new principle, especially when it modifies deeply ingrained convention and habit—even if I quit smoking today, I’ll most likely smoke a cigarette tomorrow.

In our noble, albeit inexplicit, mission of across-the-board inclusivity, however, we need to be conscious of the potential for paradox in times of transition. Expect contradiction, and continue to convert principle into practice; it may finally lead to crowning the first same sex royals in the fall.