Confusion has arisen among College Board members as it has emerged that the change in the term for first and second year students, from “Freshman” to “Fresh”, breaches the College Statutes. At a September 12 meeting of Board, the Secretary to the College, John Coman, advised that “a change to the Statutes would be required in order to facilitate the use the term of ‘Fresh’ or ‘Fresher’ in place of ‘Freshman’”.
The Board itself referred its decision to the Visitors, which include Chancellor of Trinity Dr. Mary Robinson, are a panel that “hear appeals against decisions of the College Board and interpret the College Statutes,” according to their website. An update on the matter was due to come before Board at their October 3 meeting, for which minutes are not yet available.
The College Statues constitute the basic law of the College. According to the College Statutes, The Statutes a“the academic standing of undergraduate students shall normally be described as follows: (a) in the first year, as ‘Junior Freshmen’, (b) in the second year, as ‘Senior Freshmen’, (c) in the third year, as ‘Junior Sophisters’, (d) in the fourth year, as ‘Senior Sophisters’, and (e) in further years, as students of the relevant year”. The Statutes also state: “Notwithstanding sub-section (3), Council and Board may provide that the academic standing of undergraduate students may also be described as students of the relevant year.” The latter section was introduced when the Statutes were updated in 2010 to allow for a gender neutral description, according to Trinity’s Associate Professor of Law, Dr. Eoin O’Dell, who wrote the current Statutes.
In November 2017, an email was circulated by Vice-Provost Chris Morash, and the then Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Kevin Keane, announcing the decision that had been proposed by the College’s Equality Committee. In the email, Morash said that the alteration of the titles to the gender-neutral Fresh “will ensure that all Trinity students are equally included by the language used to describe them; be they male, female or of another gender identity”.
Morash continued that the move “is a concrete expression of the university’s commitment to gender equality, as set out in our Strategic Plan 2014-2019, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, and Athena SWAN Gender Action Plan”. The changes were expected to be made to College publications such as handbooks, social media, reports, and teaching material over a three year implementation period.
The announcement attracted ridicule and backlash from students and staff, with emails later released under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act showing students describing the decision as “absolutely ridiculous”, “an April Fool’s joke”, “an absolute embarrassment”, “complete nonsense” and a “slap in the face for feminism”. In other emails, Associate Professor in Physiology, Dr Áine Kelly, wrote “I fear that this may make the College look ridiculous”, while Fellow Emeritus of History, Prof David Fitzpatrick wrote: “What a shame that the Equality Committee chose an adjective rather than a noun, thus embarrassing first and second year students of all genders.”
College was not available for comment at the time of publication.