The End of 'Freshman'

Yale jumps on to the growing trend of  gender-neutral terminology for students. 

September 18, 2017
 

Yale University will discontinue the terms “freshman” and “upperclassman” in its official documents, joining a widespread trend among institutions.

Yale publications and communications will instead refer to “first-year” and “upper-level” students, according to university representatives, with the intent to phase out the older terminology by the 2018-19 academic year.

University representatives did not respond to follow up questions about the impetus for the change.

“Because the term ‘freshman’ is so ingrained in our everyday language, the college expects its use to continue,” spokesman Tom Conroy wrote in an email.

Generally, the purpose of exchanging “freshman” and “upperclassman” has roots in the idea of being more inclusive, said Jennifer Keup, director of the National Resource Center for the First Year-Experience and Students in Transition.

She said that those two words in particular are gendered, but the shift also is a piece of a larger movement to reflect the diversity of college campuses.

Women tend to comprise the majority of college campuses, but transfer populations are also steadily increasing and in the two-year college sector, more students are attending multiple institutions, Keup.

But this isn’t a new trend – Keup said her organization, founded in 1986, changed its name to the “National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience” from the “National Resource Center for the Freshman Experience” in 1998.

“This is now the lexicon of the industry,” Keup said.

“I think the idea of students being able to see themselves in the institution and how they are referred to, to build the community, language is a big piece of that.”

Keup said she couldn’t give examples of specific institutions who have retired the terms, because “it’s the standard.”

News reports of such changes have enraged conservatives in the past. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill struck the “freshman” language in 2009, but it went unnoticed in 2012, when a number of right-wing websites reported the move, prompting national ire in conservative circles.

 

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