Why must I be a freshman next year?
Well, because I’ll be enrolling in my first year of college. Yes, I know that. My question centers not on the existentialist quality of being a freshman, but the language of it. Why must I be a freshman?
According to dictionary.com, the word freshman comes from the words fresh (as in new) and man (as in not woman), and has been used to refer to first year university students since the 1590s. This term is clearly a relic of ye olden dayes when higher education was a realm solely accessibly to (rich, upper class, white, able-bodied) men. Although we have abolished or significantly limited the usage of numerous gender-insensitive terms over the years, freshman is still the only way mainstream American society refers to ninth graders and first year college students. Even extremely liberal colleges that generally bend over backwards to be politically correct use the word freshman. For colleges that are supposed to be bastions of left-wing enlightenment, I’m surprised that they use such a dated, sexist term.
Since this has irked me since I was a mere ninth grader in high school, I have traditionally replaced freshman with freshperson. Honestly, it’s become second nature to type in person instead of man after the fresh. However, I am completely aware of how awkward freshperson sounds and how ridiculous it looks to non-feminists.
As a result, I have begun to use the less-clunky term first year. It’s the same amount of syllables as freshman, can be used in the same contexts, and doesn’t sound weird or affected at all. Some colleges, like Wesleyan and Sarah Lawrence, actually use it. I really do think that it’s a viable alternative to the word freshman, and could be used instead.
So, college representatives reading this piece: please, take my suggestion to heart. At least reconsider what you call your first year students. Make a concerted effort to include approximately 50% of your admitted students. It’s the appropriate thing to do in the 21st century.