“First-year” or “freshman”?

Should the student pictured in the "college freshman" meme be labeled "first-year?"

Should the student pictured in the “college freshman” meme be called a “first-year?”

Writing for the University of Vermont student newspaper The Cynic, Michael Farley argued in 2010 that the publication should adopt the word “first year” to refer to students in their first year of college to replace “freshman,” the standard vernacular of just about everyone, but, some would say, a term inextricably tied to gender.

He writes:

Anyway, the whole issue stems from a few ideas that UVM students are neither “fresh” and, perhaps the most important part, half of them aren’t men. The term freshman, apparently, dates back to when only men attended college and incoming students were, thus, a “fresh man.”

The Cynic is protected under the First Amendment to print a variety of obscenities — vulgar language, racial epithets, ethnic slurs, pornography, etc. Yet we choose not to publish such language because it is inappropriate for public discourse.

If The Cynic strives to be a progressive publication, it should follow the lead of the University and adopt “first year” as the appropriate term — there is no place for biased language in the 21st century, however subtle it may be.

At Framingham State, school officials use “first-year,” but The Gatepost has yet to come down on the issue. This summer, while I’m working with our new EIC to plan for next year, I plan to bring it up. Personally, I also think we ought to be looking at the impact our word choices have – like Michael said, “however subtle [they] may be,” and at a school that’s roughly 70 percent women, like ours is, “freshman” is certainly not quite accurate, even if that’s what just about everyone – male and female students – is still saying.

I’ll leave that up to our incoming editor to decide which word we’ll use going forward.


About spencerbuell

Editor-in-Chief, The Gatepost student newspaper at Framingham State University.
This entry was posted in Ethics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “First-year” or “freshman”?

  1. This subject came up at the ASB 2013 trip presentation I went to in April, when a student referred to herself as a first year. I didn’t end up using what she said for the magazine feature I wrote for feature writing, but as soon as she said that, I thought, “Is that how I would refer to her?” That’s not because I’m opposed to it – The Gatepost just hasn’t nailed down which term – first year or freshman – we use, like you wrote. I’m fine with using first year myself.

  2. spencerbuell says:

    It’s something you guys should definitely bring up at e-board. An accompanying editorial about why you’re making the switch might be a good idea. I wonder where students come down on this. Are any of them calling themselves first-years? Would they start switching if their newspaper did?

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