Henderson State Reddies update their homecoming tradition, no longer limiting it to women only.

An old tradition got with the times at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia this past weekend, when the school’s first mixed-gender homecoming court made its debut.

Two men, Chance Wallingsford of Sheridan and Cameron Denler of Magnolia, were among the 22 nominees. The student body voted, and Denler made the top 10.

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The 2021 homecoming royalty winner was Joce Mount, with runner-up Martha Mosqueda and second runner-up Kirby Smith. (Click here for brief bios of all 22 nominees.)

An art major who likes to work with oils, charcoal, gouache and cardboard, Denler was nominated to the court by Kappa Pi, an art honor society. Denler uses he/they pronouns, prefers slacks but can rock some dangly earrings and a wavy bob. “I just like feminine things,” he said. So winning a spot on his school’s royalty court made Denler feel hopeful that minds are opening in Arkansas to people who defy traditional gender roles.

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“We’re in the Bible Belt, so it’s cool to see this little bit of progress.”

Henderson State’s court is elected by students in a process overseen by the student group Heart and Key. Tina Hall, interim vice chancellor of university advancement and associate vice chancellor of marketing and communications, explained how the shift toward more inclusivity came about.

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In 2018, the membership of Heart and Key decided to make a change to the requirements for students who wish to participate in the homecoming election. In an effort to be more inclusive, a requirement limiting candidates to only female students was eliminated.

In 2018 and 2019, only female students participated in the election as candidates and the winners were crowned as Homecoming Queen. Homecoming did not happen in 2020 due to the cancelled football season and COVID-19.

In 2021, some student organizations selected male candidates to represent their groups in the homecoming election, leading to a decision by the membership of Heart and Key to adopt a gender neutral title for the winner of this year’s contest, with the winner to be known as Homecoming Royalty.

Faculty sponsor Dr. David Sesser said Heart and Key was happy to open up the possibilities for homecoming court. “Heart and Key welcomes all students to support their favorite candidate in this election, which is organized by students for students,” he said.