Cardinal Court shake-up takes gender out of the equation


Emily Blobaum/Iowa State Daily

Zoe Hildreth, senior in biology, is crowned Cardinal Court Queen during the pep rally Oct. 30, 2015.

Mary Pautsch

You can’t have homecoming without the homecoming court. But what if the court is without a King and Queen?

The Iowa State Homecoming Committee is proving that it is possible. Starting this year, Cardinal Court will not crown a king and queen. Instead, two royals will be awarded the top honor of the homecoming court and receive a monetary scholarship.

In the past the application to be on Cardinal Court asked if the applicant was either male or female to crown in order to select 10 men and 10 women to be on court. Now, gender is completely off-topic.

“A student who was extremely passionate about inclusion reached out to us about how in the past our Cardinal Court has been female and male, and was very passionate about wanting to change that,” said Kate Fjelstad, Homecoming Central Committee co-chair.

After some research into the topic of gender and homecoming Fjelstad and Emily Costa, fellow co-chair, learned that other universities across the nation had stopped crowning a top woman and top man in their courts. 

Courtney Beringer, senior in mechanical engineering, had read an article on Facebook about the University of Minnesota creating a gender-neutral homecoming court, and wanted to bring that kind of diversity and inclusion to Iowa State.

“I read that article and thought it would be really awesome to incorporate it either at Iowa State, which at the time seemed pretty big picture, or try to go back to my high school to see if I could get some people I still knew to do it there,” Beringer said.

Beringer’s former high school did not accept the idea, saying they wanted to stick to long-lived traditions at the school. However, Beringer did end up taking her idea to Student Council, where she got in contact with Julian Neely, their diversity coordinator. Neely then helped bring forth the idea to the Homecoming Committee.

Fjelstad and Costa said that Beringer’s idea helped them become proactive in the area of gender. They said that although this was not something the committee had thought about in the past, they were on board immediately once they heard about it.

“I think this is definitely something that we would have done already,” Costa said. “But we had just not become aware of it yet.”

Beringer was ready to write a formal proposal alongside Neely to show the need for a gender-neutral court, but was surprised to find out there was no need, because the Homecoming Central Committee was ready to accept the idea right off the bat.

“They were a lot more accepting than I’d anticipated,” Beringer said. “So we didn’t have to go through student government with a bill or anything… We just started emailing over the summer and talked about ideas for this fall.”

With the elimination of asking for gender on the Cardinal Court application, which is open until Oct. 6, non-binary identifying students can now also apply for the court. To Beringer this was a necessary point to make.

“That was one of the things I found most troubling about the past process,” Beringer said. “You know, what were [non-binary students] supposed to click? What did they have to present themselves as? They were literally out of an opportunity for a scholarship that was supposed to be based solely on merit. So the fact that some people were getting left out was not OK.”

After it was officially decided to have a gender-neutral court, Costa, Fjelstad and the rest of the Homecoming Central Committee sought out to find faculty to be part of the Cardinal Court selection process.

It was essential to both Beringer and the committee to make sure the faculty involved knows not to let gender play a roll in their selections. They also aimed for more diverse judges this year to help eliminate bias.

To Beringer and Neely, anonymity for the court until the final rounds of selecting the top two royals is important not only to help eliminate the issue of gender, but to help add diversity in many other areas.

“There’s so much that goes in racially, with names and such,” Beringer said. “Unfortunately that can be really prevalent, with racial profiling, so I think it’s pretty awesome that names of the candidates won’t be seen until the final stages of interviews.”

The whole team that made the change to a gender-neutral court is also taking away some heteronormative traditions that was associated with Cardinal Court in the past. For example, no crowns will be placed and instead the winners will receive sashes. Floral arrangements for the winner will also be determined more on the outfits of the royals, rather than their gender.

“If a woman wears a really nice suit or something, they’re not necessarily going to want a corsage, you’re going to need a boutineer for that,” Beringer said.

In the past, members of the Cardinal Court would be paired up to escort each other onto stage for the announcement of king and queen. Now, however, students will present themselves as individuals for the ceremony.

The Homecoming Central Committee aims for homecoming to be more accessible in a number of activities this year. In the past, students involved in Greek life had more opportunities to celebrate and get involved. Costa and Fjelstad are hoping to bring the fun of homecoming to everyone at Iowa State.

“We’re encouraging residence hall floors to compete against each other, and student clubs and organizations,” Fjelstad said. “We have plans for larger student orgs and smaller ones, so any size can get involved.”

Beringer and the Homecoming committee hopes that gender-neutral court and new initiatives will set a precedent for other colleges around the country to make homecoming celebrations more accessible.

“I think it would be really awesome for Iowa State to set the standard for other Iowa state schools or even in other states, and have it trickle down to high schools,” Beringer said. “Keep it spreading.”