Tulane University honored seniors Albert Howell and Lauren Gaines as homecoming “royalty” on Nov. 2, as the student organization overseeing the annual festivities officially abandoned the gender-specific terms “king” and “queen” and swapped them out for a single inclusive title.
In making this semantic decision, Tulane joined a growing nationwide movement of high schools and universities seeking to diversify homecoming courts to include trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary students. Penn State and Purdue universities were among the first colleges to institute gender-neutral homecoming courts.
Tulane implemented the change a year after the school’s Tidal Wave committee, which oversees homecoming activities, began discussing ways “to make the tradition more comfortable,” said Greg Feiling, associate director for programming at Tulane’s Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life.
Feiling said Tidal Wave consulted other campus groups and departments, including the Office for Sexual and Gender Diversity, the Office of Student Affairs and the student government, regarding concerns over the now-defunct gendered coronation titles.
Dressing up is a big part of homecoming week fun at Bains Lower Elementary School in St. Francisville.
Student Lily Schwartz, who served as the Tidal Wave homecoming committee chair, told Gambit that the previous method of running the homecoming court “could be polarizing to students, especially to those who don’t conform to traditional gender norms.”
She also said homecoming court members are “leaders and role models” who are ultimately assessed by their professionalism, academic excellence and commitment to the university and the New Orleans community.
“We tried to emphasize these values in order to maintain the nature of the court,” she said. “We believe that changing from king and queen to royalty promotes a more inclusive culture on campus. … The changes we have made to this process make our traditions more welcoming to the broader population.”
Schwartz said the Tulane community reacted positively to the changes.
An editorial in the student newspaper The Hullabaloo noted that this is the first time in the university’s history that “all graduating students, regardless of gender identity, were able to participate in the homecoming royalty tradition” and that a student who receives a crown does so because of “who they are as a person — not because they fit into a pre-constructed gender identity.”
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In the past, Tulane’s homecoming court featured 10 undergraduate seniors, half of whom competed for the honor of homecoming queen while the other half competed for the position of king. This year, all of the candidates competed simply for the position of royalty without the gender categories.
In addition to Gaines and Howell, other members of the homecoming court included John Alexander, Evan Doomes, Kate Moranski, Joseph Sotile, Meredith Galanti, Olivia Johnson, Lexi Frame and Jeresun Atkin.
Howell and Gaines accepted their regalia at halftime during the football game against the University of Tulsa.