As planning for Homecoming in November begins, Mercer may have already seen its last king and queen.
The Office of Campus Life is surveying students on the possibility of the binary titles being replaced with new, more inclusive terms, but student opinion is mixed.
The conversation of moving to a gender-neutral homecoming court began when student leaders from Kennesaw State University visited Macon to discuss how Mercer structures homecoming.
"Kennesaw has a gender-neutral homecoming court, and they shared their market research with Campus Life and QuadWorks," Associate Director of Campus Life and Student Involvement Meredith Keating White said. "This prompted us to find out the student body interest."
Under the current homecoming court system, co-ed student organizations can nominate one female and one male member, and single-gender organizations can nominate one member. All nominees are then interviewed by Mercer faculty and staff, and the top eight women and top eight men are chosen to be voted on by the student body. Four women and four men are then announced on the Friday before Homecoming to be on the court, and one woman and one man are chosen to be queen and king respectively during half-time at the Saturday football game.
Campus Life's new system proposed in the survey would remove the gender barriers in each step of the process.
Co-ed organizations would still be allowed to nominate two members and single-gender organizations would nominate one. The top sixteen candidates would be chosen based on interviews regardless of gender and, after the student body election, the top eight would be announced as the court. Two members of that court would be crowned as Homecoming royalty regardless of gender.
"If the royalty process were changed, it would be because of student interest with the hope that more student organizations will nominate members for homecoming royalty," White said. "We had 28 student nominees in 2021 representing 20 student organizations."
White said that student opinion on the form remains mixed, but Campus Life is hoping for a larger pool of responses to consider when they review the survey results on Tuesday.
Among the students who believe that the process should be changed is Erika Houser '23, a neuroscience major.
"I know there is a lot of old tradition behind using the terms ‘king’ and ‘queen’ within Homecoming festivities," Houser said. "Those have never been inclusive terms for students who do not identify as binary male or female and might place students in an uncomfortable position if they are nominated for the Homecoming court but do not feel comfortable using either of these labels."
Mercer alum Cam Wade '22 was one of those students who considered trying for Homecoming court but decided against it due to their gender identity.
"I think it’s long overdue that we overhaul some of these titles," Wade said. "I honestly considered running for Homecoming Court my senior year, but I didn’t really know what category I would be grouped under since I was just coming into my non-binary identity, so I never did it.”
Some students who may not support the change are offering alternatives to Campus Life's proposed new system.
Lara Edgeman '23, an education and Spanish student, thinks more titles should be added instead of nixing "king" and "queen."
"I love the idea of adding some diverse homecoming titles," she said. "But I believe they should add new homecoming titles, not necessarily change the ones we have. We don’t want to exclude our cisgender or fully transgender friends in an effort to include our nonbinary friends."
Mary Helene Hall ‘23 is a journalism and women’s and gender studies student who has worked for The Cluster throughout her time at Mercer. She has held internships at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AL.com, where she covered a variety of topics including politics, crime and culture.