‘Freshman’ to ‘Fresh’: more inclusive or too sensitive?

Trinity should focus on the major issues affecting marginalised students and academics

Photo by Joe McCallion

When I first read that ‘Freshman’ was being changed to ‘Fresh’, I was shocked. I never considered the term to be offensive, nor thought that it needed a change. Upon self-reflection I feared that maybe I had turned to the archaism that I always feared. Maybe my beliefs were beyond progress and I was merely falling into the category of intolerant. This apparently intolerant outlook jolted me, as I always thought that I was eternally striving for intersectionality. Are you an intolerant and inflammatory person for questioning others when they bill their actions as a step towards inclusion?

This made me question whether we are moving towards inclusion, or rather merely confirming the view that as students we are bubble-wrapped before being thrown into the ‘real world’. It’s hard to know whether this change has been a win for inclusivity or sensitivity. Are the administrative realm merely feeding these very sensitivities?

In response to this change, I have seen so many ridicule the stereotypical image of the overly politically correct student, who is offended by everything. I have constantly counteracted this argument, but in this case, I’m not sure I can come up with a response for the side of the students.

The idea of eliminating the ‘man’ from Freshman is a symbolically troubling idea. By eliminating the ‘man’ from our society, we are threatening our very ideals of inclusion. I wholeheartedly support the notion that the voices that have been put in the shadows for centuries be celebrated utterly.

However, I think that our ideals are being discombobulated by this exclusion of the man’s voice – which also includes those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and people of colour. As a University we mustn’t attempt to eliminate, but celebrate, and I cannot see this change as a celebration of any kind.

The powerful reaction makes me look at the lack of reaction to certain pressing issues in College. Students can wait up to six weeks for an appointment with their counselling service around universities in Ireland. 48 Trinity students have been on the waiting list since October, yet the news of an arbitrary name change consumes our chatter. The location of the counselling service building outside the gates of College has no lack of irony to it, as we see how little attention it is given. Why are we as a College looking to words while students are suffering due to lack of funding for our mental health sector?

This step of changing a name also has no action connected to it. Trinity has consistently failed to tackle the structural gender issues that are so vital for inclusion. Of the 46 people selected for the Provost’s council, only 8 of those are women. The Provost has said that Trinity without women “induces a chill” while addressing Trinity Women Graduates, but this in no way reflects college administration’s actual actions.

In addition, it is also a laborious task to change your name or gender in the college’s records, which begs one to look at how we are actually inclusive through action rather than language. Kevin Keane has responded to change by saying “We want Trinity to be as inclusive as possible”, and I just can’t see how changing a term increases inclusivity without real steps.

This decision to change is not unique to Trinity and I believe does not have any relation to the stereotype of the Trinity student we know and hate. Yale has also abolished the term “Freshman” in favour of the phrase ‘first-year’. Unlike Trinity, Yale has chosen to use an entirely different phrase, which may help the transition. It must be said that the word ‘Fresh’ does not have the same meaning as ‘Freshman’, which makes it less likely to be accepted into colloquial language outside the realm of Trinity.

This change makes one wonder whether it will have any actual effect, or transform how we view language. I’m unsure that in my older years I will look back at my ‘Fresh student years’, or just use the phrase I have been raised with. However, it is clear that by illuminating language in our minds it will hopefully have an effect which will make one look at their language in a more mindful way.

I sincerely hope that this changes proves to be beneficial in the future, but right now I am quite unsure. This uncertainty may highlight my personal bigotry that I must grow from and be educated by. But right now, all I can do is wonder at how Trinity has managed to find the time to make this change, while ignoring the many larger issues that consume college today.