By MORGAN KING – STAFF WRITER
It is a struggle that Centre students have faced since the moment they have moved into their first dorm room. At Centre, and many other colleges across the nation, the students’ first year is not marked by the typical term “freshman” but instead embrace the more general name of “first-year.” This more gender-neutral name is a more inclusive option than “freshman,” which limits itself with no “freshwoman” counterpart.
This gender-neutral stance is an initiative being taken across campuses, with more private schools calling their students “first-years” than public ones. The response to its effectiveness, however, is mixed. In 2012, UNC took the initiative to change freshman to first-year and received much backlash against it. In a Huffington Post article, critics were asking “how many women have actually filed a serious complaint about this being sexist?”
In the Centre community, the importance of language remains the primary focus of using the term “first-year.” In our society, the term “freshman” also has negative connotations. To be a freshman means to be ranked the lowest in the hierarchy of the school system. “Language shapes our thought,” Associate Dean and Director of the Grissom Scholars Program and Student Leadership Sarah Scott Hall said. “It is very powerful.”
This view of language is supported and many students, staff, and faculty ensure it is remembered. By using the word “first-year” Centre not only becomes more politically correct, but also encourages the use of inclusive language in our daily life. This inclusive language adds to the excellence in bettering a community at Centre College.
For some, however, the word might not seem as degrading. “[They] said something about how using the word ‘freshman’ is looked upon as degrading, but I don’t know. I’m fine with either one, but it’s kind of nice to be called ‘first-year,’” first-year woman Beka Bruner said.
Without the context of the term, there is also the idea of slipping in the term “first-year” in a society that places a heavy emphasis on the word “freshman.” However, those that have the hardest time changing their mindset do not seem that worried.
“I really don’t find it that hard of a transition to make. I just sometimes have to catch myself if I’m talking to upperclassmen I want to seem proper about it, but otherwise it’s not a big deal to me,” first-year Reuben Russak-Pribble said.
What do upperclassmen think looking back at being called a first-year here at Centre? Junior Robert Widener doesn’t believe much on the effectiveness of the subject. “It’s stupid. And it’s used interchangeably. Just because it says first-year on a piece of paper doesn’t mean people don’t automatically think of it as freshman. I mean, at this point, it is just a distinction for the school to make and no one else really cares,” Widener said.
Many share Widener’s view. Upperclassmen at Centre just do not seem to think much of the distinction, and they rarely have an opinion for or against it. Whether it is because they want this numerical system to continue with “second-year,” “third-year,” and ending with “fourth-year” is unclear. It does seem unfair, however, that seniors taking an extra year of schooling are called “fifth-years.” Apparently, this idea has not fully caught on past a student’s first year.
The real debate of this subject comes from how far Centre is willing to go for an all-encompassing attitude. For example, the word “upperclassmen” itself is limited to one gender, but there has yet to be a gender inclusive initiative taken. If we change freshman, should we not change this term as well? As such, where does the line end for making language gender inclusive and how far is Centre going to go to reach it?
To first-years, however, this individuality seems to be an exciting and riveting idea. First-year is just not a term used in the typical college setting. Therefore, they are set apart from the wider world because of their status as “first-year.” One first year with an unique opinion about the subject is first-year Amaryst Parks, who relates the term back to a nostalgic childhood classic, “It’s like Hogwarts, I think it is kind of cool, kind of magical, like Centre.”