OU makes campus award names gender-neutral to provide more inclusive recognition

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Leanne Ho

English literature and social justice senior Leanne Ho poses for a photo Oct. 17. Ho received the Big Non-Binary Person on campus award last year.

When English literature and social justice senior Leanne Ho applied for Big Man/Woman on Campus last year, they won the award. Because Ho identifies as nonbinary, they could not receive the award as it was named. 

Ho instead convinced the office of Leadership and Volunteerism to give them Big Non-Binary Person on campus — a change which will have an impact on campus awards starting this year.

“When I got (the award), I was like, ‘Joke’s on you, I’m neither a man nor a woman,’” said Ho, who said they had hoped their experience would convince those who give out the awards that they should not be gendered.

Partly because of their experience, all campus awards will have gender-neutral names starting this year.

Big Man/Woman on Campus will now be the OU Campus Life Award, Outstanding Senior Man and Woman will be Outstanding Senior, and the Letzeiser Honor List will now recognize the top 26 students without dividing them by gender, said Becky Barker, director of the office of Leadership and Volunteerism. The Homecoming court is also gender-neutral this year, said Ho, who is on the court.

“In an effort to be more inclusive and to create uniformity with other longstanding campus awards, Student Affairs performed a review and recommended the award name be changed along with updating the award criteria to recognize the best applicant, regardless of gender,” Barker said in an email.

Erin Simpson, director of the Gender and Equality Center, said in an email that this change will make the OU campus more inclusive. 

“Trans, nonbinary and gender non-conforming students can now see themselves in the greater campus leadership landscape in a completely different way,” Simpson said in the email.

While campus awards have been changed to be gender-neutral, the selection process will not change, and the selection committee will still be made up of staff, faculty and students, Barker said in the email.

Since receiving Big Non-Binary Person on Campus, Ho said there has not been much resistance to the changes.

“It seemed like this was something that (Leadership and Volunteerism) had wanted to do for a while,” Ho said. “Campus awards being distributed on the basis of gender directly conflicts with the meritocracy it’s supposed to provide.”

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