For the first time in UT history, the homecoming candidates now include men.
After the revision, the rules now bring Tennessee in line with schools like Missouri and Florida, which include a possible male and female winner. The change also brings UT into the 21st century with language that invites all sectors of campus into the fray.
"We want to always attract the groups that have always participated in our events, because we're obviously glad to have them, but we also want to make sure we invite and attract all other groups to participate," said Scott White, All Campus Events director's chairperson.
"It is really awesome that we have the SGA vice president and president on the court this year," White added, "but it'd be cool to have ... the treasurer of the baking club or the editor for 'The Tangerine.' Who knows."
The winners for homecoming will instead be the two candidates earning the most votes.
"We're crowning Homecoming Highnesses, not the typical king and the queen. They can identify as being either Homecoming Highness or Homecoming King or Homecoming Queen, depending on however they identify themselves," White said.
"So, it's very possible that two girls win. It's very possible that both of the guys win. It's however the voting turns out."
This year the two men on the court, Jake Darlington and Jake Baker, are both excited to be the first males represented on the court.
Darlington, a senior representing the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, is glad to see regulations permanently move homecoming away from pageantry.
"I think it is moving towards the overall character of a person, rather than strictly a 'beauty contest,'" Darlington said.
"Not saying it was, they were all very qualified, smart women, but when you include guys, it takes away that stigma of it being simply a pageant," Darlington continued. "It now becomes an honor for an individual on the UT spirit and life."
Few other schools have undergone such a change. In 2004, a gay man at Vanderbilt University won homecoming queen, creating controversy when he was crowned wearing drag. As a result, the school eliminated the court altogether.
For those excluded in the past, the revision solidifies a place among the homecoming festivities.
"I think it's a great thing. You get to meet other people. It's not just the Greeks knowing who they are; it is more, 'Hey, we all have something to bring to the table.' It's about inclusivity," said Travis Wilson, a junior in global studies with a minor in classics. "I think it's really important because I know some people on campus feel marginalized by the Greeks. It's very divided."
Laura Burgin, senior in business analytics and French and president of Impact, represents one of the few non-Greek organizations involved with homecoming activities this year. Also a homecoming court candidate, Burgin is similarly glad for ACE's inclusive amendment.
"I think it is great there are so many student leaders on campus, and a lot of them are guys. I think anytime there is a change of tradition, it just takes a little time for everyone to adjust," Burgin said. "I was nominated by Impact, which is a student philanthropy organization. I am running because it's a new organization and I want people to hear about it ... I think the more people see the name ... the more recognition we can get, and the more interested people will be in giving back to UT."
Ellie Baldwin, a junior in supply chain management and assistant for homecoming court in ACE, said no negative reactions have come from Greek organizations, which typically dominate the event.
Baldwin recalled only a few questions regarding how the finalists would be chosen.
"They're just wondering why we didn't just do five-and-five ... Nothing negative, just something that needs to be explained, but that is how it is with everything."
White is encouraging every corner of campus to participate and hopes all groups feel they have a place at the table.
"A lot of people think that ACE is just the Greek thing, but really, we are All Campus Events," he said. "We want everyone to participate in our events, not just the Greek organizations, but organizations like the Chill and Grill Club, or Impact and SAA."
Nominated by UT Ambassadors
Legal name is Jake, not Jacob.
Political Science with a minor in history
Why students should vote for him:
"I think it would be cool if a guy won it this year – change things up, but there's a lot of great candidates. Everybody that is on the court is totally deserving to be there, so there's really no wrong decision to be made this year."
Nominated by Baptist Collegiate Ministry
Business analytics and marketing, concentration in marketing
"I am the oldest of 8 kids."
Why students should vote for him:
I have been committed to UT before I even got to high school – yay for living in Knoxville – and this university has meant so much to me in shaping the direction I have taken my life. Because of this, I try to be intentional in providing guidance, both spiritual and educational, in my leadership capacity at the BCM to students – especially freshmen – who might feel lost at college. I love helping students create a sense of community on UT's campus, further helping strengthen and build this university.