Formerly known as the Alumnae/i Association, the organization voted to be renamed as the Alumni Association. The new name is meant to remove any gender-specific grouping and promote inclusivity.
The push to change the name of the organization came during a meeting that the Alumni Board of Directors had earlier this fall. The association had heard complaints that the “Alumnae/i” title limited students and members to a gender dichotomy. The talk on the subject included research from board members and ultimately resulted in a unanimous vote for a name change.
“This change is extremely significant,” Alumni Association representatives Jane Martin ’74, Andrew Lounder ’05 and Courtney Shurtleff said in a joint statement. “The Alumni Association is a mirror of the Wheaton student body, and as such, we strive to represent all people, regardless of gender identification, race, religious affiliation or nationality.”
The Association further emphasized the significance of the change with a statement on the Wheaton website: “This name change is meant to welcome all alumni. This is about inclusion and diversity, not about co-education.”
In the traditional Latin, the term “alumnae” refers to a group of women while the term “alumni” refers to either a group of men or a mixed group of men and women. This has led to some consideration over whether this change to solely “Alumni” is the best term to use for gender neutrality.
“I do not know all of the thought that went into the change,” Professor of classics Joel Relihan said. “I think that, if you are going to use a Latin noun, that [change] makes sense.”
Relihan, an expert in Latin, did express worries that the term might not be flawless because its latin ending implies a mixed group, which is different from remaining gender neutral.
“Alumni all by itself would refer to a mixed group of men and women. If the concern is avoiding the trap of a gender binary, Latin won’t help you with that,” Relihan said. “There is the difficulty of fitting a modern sensibility into an ancient language.”
Relihan said that he thought the association members did a good job under the confines they gave themselves, but that the term “won’t be satisfactory to everybody” and likely won’t be able to completely rid itself of a gendered dichotomy.
“I think if I were a women who graduated from here 40 years ago, [the name change] would look like a loss,” Relihan said. “If I were doing [the name change], I would probably vote for the ‘Alums Association.’”
The Alumni Association did make it a point to talk about the Latin in their initial joint announcement. They said, “While [the term ‘Alumni’] undoubtedly referred to men in the original Latin, it is not understood in such restrictive gender terms today.”
Relihan explained that Latin could be pushed past its modern usage, stating, “People can bend language to fit their needs.” Relihan also said that he could understand if people viewed the new name with “a certain amount of suspicion or regret.”
The Alumni Association wanted the significance of the name change to be well-defined. In a collective statement, the association’s representatives said, “we want to be clear in our message of welcome to all members of our community, regardless of their gender identity.”
The Alumni Association said that they welcomed a continued dialogue on the topic, and that they strive to help Wheaton stand together as a community.