After Years of Debate, Rutgers Rewrites Alma Mater With Gender-Neutral Lyrics

Rutgers University is rewriting the opening lines of its 140-year-old alma mater, “On the Banks of the Old Raritan,” to be gender-neutral, following years of debate and complaints that the lyrics were sexist.

The first verse, which begins “My father sent me to old Rutgers/ And resolv’d that I should be a man,” will change to “From far and near we came to Rutgers/ And resolved to learn all that we can.” The university’s Glee Club will give the new lyrics their official debut on Saturday, during a football game against the University of Arkansas. Rutgers officials said the Glee Club had the right to change the lyrics without a campus vote.

Patrick Gardner, the university’s director of choral activities and author of the new lyrics, said the song had been the subject of debate for many years. He said, “50 percent of the student body shouldn’t have to sing they want to become a man.”

Rutgers officials said they are aware the decision to rewrite the opening lines to an alma mater that has been sung since the 1870s will be controversial. Over the years, some alumni have been adamant the lyrics stay the same. Numerous previous attempts to rewrite the song were rejected or failed to catch on.

Gardner, a veteran music professor, spent four years writing the new first verse, trying to find the right words so the gender-neutral version would blend in when people purposefully or mistakenly sang the original “My father sent me to old Rutgers” verse at the same time.

“I wanted to get a set of words where all of the accents and vowels are in the same place,” Gardner said.

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