Where are you from? What’s your name? How did you find out about Elon University? What grade are you in? These are some of the basic questions that a new student like myself encounters upon arriving to campus.
When asked those questions I say I’m from California, my name is Bryan Anderson, I found out about Elon through an independent college advisor, and I’m a freshman.
“You’re not a freshman. You’re a first-year,” some people correct me.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend myself,” I say in my head.
After one semester of classes, I learned that the term first-year was coined to make new students feel welcomed. An article posted by The College Fix quoted Director of Inclusive Community Well-Being Leigh-Anne Royster saying the word freshman “has often been felt to refer to the vulnerability of young women in college.” Additionally, the word freshman implies a hierarchy on campus with freshmen at the bottom and seniors at the top.
Keeping it consistent
If it is true that the word freshman should be replaced since it suggests a hierarchy, then why are we only swapping first-year words? How about second-year instead of sophomore?
Although I can’t speak for everyone, a news report from Elon Local News showed that many students from the Class of 2018 said they didn’t care if they were referred to as freshmen or first-years.
If someone were to use this term in a derogatory way, insinuating I was at the bottom of the social pyramid, then I might take offense. But I really have no problem being called a freshman as a 19-year-old male student going to college for the first time.
The bottom line
Freshman versus first-year: Who really cares?
Because freshman has “man” in it, some people may feel that the gender-neutral term first-year is more appropriate.
There has clearly been much discussion surrounding the freshman vs. first-year debate. Although Elon hasn’t banned the word freshman, the efforts to replace it with first-year are apparent — university promotional materials now use the term first-year, as do tour guides when they lead groups around campus.
But the debate is getting more attention than it deserves. There’s a necessity to have an inclusive community, but at some point the need to be politically goes too far.