From traditional queen to gender-inclusive court: Homecoming makes progressive changes

A 1965 issue of The Rider News (above) published photos of the then-announced nominees for Homecoming Queen. This year, Rider is bringing the tradition back with the gender-inclusive Cranberry Court, where both female and male students will have the chance to compete for the Cranberry Crown on Nov. 16. The nominees this year are Alison Alfano, Catrina Strubinger, Ben Norkus, Alexis Fraction and Alexandra Perrine.

By Megan Lupo

Rider’s homecoming court has historically hinted at misogynistic undertones. A look at the 1960s copies of The Rider News reveals that this 152-year tradition judged the five female candidates’ looks over their achievements on campus.

Only a queen was crowned, and she was from a sorority. A homecoming king did not seem to appear on campus until the late 1980s, as seen in the 1987 news coverage of the event.

The 1963 homecoming queen Terry Godwin was valued more on her appearance than her intelligence and academics suggested in the Nov. 11, 1963 issue.

Despite having a four-year General Motors scholarship, a 3.6 grade point average and a major in biology with plans of becoming a pediatric doctor, which was listed briefly towards the end of the article, her clothing and her measurements were described in great detail at the start.

The article included that she was “dressed in a white-satin gown,” “wearing a sequin studded floor-length formal,” “five-feet four-inches tall…honey blonde with blue eyes” and “challenged the saying, ‘Brains and beauty don’t mix.’”

According to the Oct. 23, 1964 issue, the criteria of the homecoming queen was that she was “judged on beauty, poise, personality and posture.” And the judges for homecoming queen were not of the student body but members of fraternities, who selected the women in the first place.

An excerpt from the Oct. 8, 1965 issue stated that homecoming consisted of “floats, soccer games, fall weather and pretty girls.”

Deterring away from the long-established norms and after a 13-year hiatus, Rider’s homecoming today consists of food trucks, a Greek Life 5K Color Run/Walk, diversity and inclusiveness.

The progressive attitude of the 2017-2018 Student Government Association (SGA) allowed for the removal of the Cranberry King and Queen labels to feature Rider’s first gender-inclusive Cranberry Court. The winner will receive the Cranberry Crown.

SGA President and English major John Modica said, “Over the summer, I started to think about our tradition of Cranberry King and Queen. You might not think it’s so bad or weird because it offers the opportunity for one male and one female to be elected in the court, which seems rather inclusive, but, in reality it’s not because you are encouraging a gender binary.”

When Modica met with the executive board in the fall, they started researching ways to include every student in the process, regardless of gender.

The history of the number of homecoming candidates went from five women, to five women and five men, to now five people.

And instead of only being chosen by the Greek organizations to compete for the homecoming crown like in the 1960s, the candidates were picked from a diverse group of the university’s administrators to avoid student biases.

Campus life chair and senior philosophy major Manny Rivera said, “We chose someone from the Multicultural Affairs Office because we wanted somebody who represents diversity. We chose someone from Greek Life because we have a great Greek program, and it touches on a lot of the philanthropies. We chose someone from athletics because we have a strong athletics program. We chose someone from the President’s Office to just get a neutral administrative position. And we chose someone from the Office of Campus Life because students are engaged, doing activities and working with clubs and organizations and SGA.”

Rivera continued that these five officials picked the candidates based on “grade point average, student involvement and diversity.”

Although open to all students, the modern court is slightly reminiscent of the past since there were not a lot of male applicants, according to Rivera.

Inquiring why that could be, Rivera presumed “because the title of king wasn’t there. It was just Cranberry Crown, and when you go gender neutral, a lot of times, men feel disenfranchised. I don’t know why, they just feel it’s not for me because it’s not manly.”

One person who was taken aback by the lack of male representation was Westminster graduate student and Cranberry court nominee Ben Norkus.

“I was surprised to be the only guy,” he said.

However, that just proves that gender is not of the importance, he added.

Modica said, “We actually had more applicants than we ever had before for the position.”

Along with many applications and support of this decision, Cranberry Court has been faced with some criticism.

“At Midnight MAACness, I did overhear a lot of people saying ‘Why is it people of all these different genders and just one singular court?’ And it seemed like that was an issue of concern for some people, just because it was a mixed court, and it wasn’t defined based on this binary of male and female anymore,” Modica said. “And other people have expressed their concerns about the decision about whether it’s truly inclusive, or whether actually making a smaller court just of itself is really limiting the options of how many people can be on it.”

Modica responded to the backlash by explaining that having two positions suggests a king and queen dynamic, which was not the desire.

Whoever wins the crown can identify their title however they want, which is “empowering,” Modica said. And being more selective allows for a more serious competition, which is what Norkus focuses on.

“I’m a really competitive person,” Norkus said. “I won’t show it on the outside, but I definitely have a pageant drive in me. And I’m in it to win it right now.”

Representing both the Lawrenceville and Princeton campuses, Norkus believes his well-rounded activeness shows “that I’ve taken advantage of all the opportunities I possibly can at school.”

He continued, “I’m ready to share those experiences and what I’ve learned from my past four years with everyone that I’m able to affect under my reign.”

His involvement includes being an orientation leader, an admissions ambassador, a member of the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity, Westminster’s vice president of the executive board and a part of Williamson Voices.

The obligations that Norkus and the other nominees have to fulfill are to attend and participate in two events. One being the Monster Mash that was held on Oct. 30, where candidates had to design a table and activity for a group of costumed local schoolchildren, and the other is to get a cheering section together for the men and women’s basketball doubleheader games on Nov. 10. After the games, there will be an open student body vote.

Modica said, “They will be given points based on how many people they bring out to the game and how much they cheer for the men’s and women’s teams. So we’re hoping that, because our candidates have such a wide array of representation from the community, their efforts will bring out a lot of different people to our games and to our community building events.”

The winner of the Cranberry Crown will be revealed at the Celebration of Lights on Nov. 16 due to the cultural diversity of the event and the symbolic meaning that the importance of lights is included in every holiday, according to Rivera.

“I’m not fully expecting people to get it, but I will say that a decision like this makes us start to erase the different constructs around our understandings of ourselves,” Modica said. “I think that recognizing truly special individuals in our community needs to be done solely based on their character. We want people to be judged by solely what they bring to this university, and race or sexual orientation or gender, on something like this level, that should be blind.”


Published in the 11/08/17 edition.

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